Habitat productivity and anthropogenic development drive rangewide variation in striped skunk (mephitis mephitis) abundance

Key Findings

An icon of a skunk

Research from the University of New Hampshire emphasizes how skunks play essential ecological roles as predators and seed dispersers in New England ecosystems, and suffer few negative impacts from humans due to increased opportunities for food and shelter. This research shows how understanding the complexities of human-wildlife interactions can help conservation of local wildlife populations.

About the CO-Author

A photo of COLSA researcher Remington Moll. Rem is a white male with short brown hair. He wears a checkered shirt.

Rem Moll, Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment

Contact information: Remington.Moll@UNH.edu, 603-862-3054, Moll Lab website

This research first published in Global Ecology and Conservation.

Researchers: M. Allen, A. Green, and R. Moll

Skunks are often associated with pest control services in New Hampshire, but they play an important role in the region's ecosystems as a predator and seed disperser. Research from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES) highlights the importance of collaborative databases in studying understudied species like skunks. NHAES scientist Rem Moll and his colleagues developed a model for determining regional abundance of skunks using data from the national annual mammal survey Snapshot USA program. The data showed that skunk detection was similar across 2019 and 2020.

"The presence of food and shelter seems to really buffer skunks from any human-related negative impacts, like pest control and vehicle collisions."

Skunks are doing well wherever there is abundant food and shelter, even in developed areas where structures provide places to live. According to Moll, "The presence of food and shelter seems to really buffer skunks from any human-related negative impacts, like pest control and vehicle collisions." However, skunks also suffer from their close existence with humans, with direct human interventions and vehicular strikes as leading causes of skunk deaths in some areas.

Moll and his colleagues refer to the striped skunk as a "synanthropic misanthrope" – a species that both benefits from and suffers from its close existence with humans. Despite sometimes intense human persecution and lethal pest control, skunks seem to thrive at broad scales. They occupy a unique ecological niche where they can coexist and even thrive alongside humans as long as food and shelter are present.

The researchers believe that skunks are emblematic of wildlife species likely to flourish in the 21st century due to their ecological characteristics that enable them to persist in human-modified landscapes despite potential human-wildlife conflict. As land-use changes occur at the macro level, it is essential to have a broader view to learn how species are responding to disturbances, human development, and climate change. Collaborative datasets like Snapshot USA provide this larger view and allow for a better understanding of understudied species like skunks.

This study was funded by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station through joint funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (under Hatch award numbers 1024128) and the state of New Hampshire.