Small carnivores are of increasing conservation concern globally, including those formerly thought to be widespread and abundant. Three weasel species (Mustela nivalis, M. frenata, and M. erminea) are distributed across most of North America, yet several recent studies have reported difficulty detecting weasels within their historical range and several states have revised the status of weasels to that of species of conservation concern. To investigate the status and trends of weasels across the United States (US) and Canada, we analyzed four separate datasets: historical harvests, museum collections, citizen scientist observations (iNaturalist), and a recent US-wide trail camera survey. We observed 87–94% declines in weasel harvest across North America over the past 60 years. Declining trapper numbers and shifts in trapping practices likely partially explain the decline in harvest. Nonetheless, after accounting for trapper effort and pelt price, we still detected a significant decline in weasel harvest for 15 of 22 evaluated states and provinces. Comparisons of recent and historical museum and observational records suggest relatively consistent distributions for M. erminea, but a current range gap of >1000 km between two distinct populations of M. nivalis. We observed a dramatic drop-off in M. frenata records since 2000 in portions of its central, Great Lakes, and southern distribution, despite extensive sampling effort. In 2019, systematic trail camera surveys at 1509 sites in 50 US states detected weasels at 14 sites, all of which were above 40o latitude. While none of these datasets are individually conclusive, they collectively support the hypothesis that weasel populations have declined in North America and highlight the need for improved methods for detecting and monitoring weasels. By identifying population declines for small carnivores that were formerly abundant across North America, our findings echo recent calls to expand investigations into the conservation need of small carnivores globally.
Jachowski D, Kays R, Butler A, Hoylman AM, Gompper ME (2021) Tracking the decline of weasels in North America. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0254387. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0254387