09 September 2020
Hedgehogs have been found in higher densities in urban compared to rural areas. Recent dramatic declines in rural hedgehog numbers lead us to pose the question: how are hedgehogs faring in urban areas? In this study, we examined how hedgehog numbers have changed in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, in the last 25 years. We compared data collected through citizen science projects conducted in 1992 and 2016–2018, including: observations of hedgehogs, data from footprint tunnels, and capture-mark recapture studies. We found that hedgehog numbers have declined by 41%, from the former average of more than 30 individuals per km 2, in the last 25 years. In the same time span, hedgehogs have lost 18% of their former urban distribution. The reasons for this decline are still unknown. Intensification of urban buildup, reduction of green space quality, the use of pesticides, parasites, or diseases, as well as increasing numbers of badgers, which are hedgehog predators, in urban areas are discussed as potential causes. Worryingly, these results suggest that hedgehogs are now under increasing pressure not only in rural but also in urban areas, their former refuges.
Increasing urbanization and densification are two of the largest global threats to biodiversity. However, certain species thrive in urban spaces. Hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus have been found in higher densities in green areas of settlements as compared to rural spaces. With recent studies pointing to dramatically declining hedgehog numbers in rural areas, we pose the question: how do hedgehogs fare in urban spaces, and do these spaces act as refuges? In this study, recent (2016–2018) and past (1992) hedgehog abundance and distribution were compared across the city of Zurich, Switzerland using citizen science methods, including: footprint tunnels, capture-mark recapture, and incidental sightings. Our analyses revealed consistent negative trends: Overall hedgehog distribution decreased by 17.6% ± 4.7%, whereas abundance declined by 40.6% (mean abundance 32 vs. 19 hedgehogs/km 2, in past and recent time, respectively), with one study plot even showing a 91% decline in this period (78 vs. 7 hedgehogs/km 2, respectively). We discuss possible causes of this rapid decline: increased urban densification, reduction of insect biomass, and pesticide use, as well as the role of increasing populations of badgers (a hedgehog predator) and parasites or diseases. Our results suggest that hedgehogs are now under increasing pressure not only in rural but also in urban areas, their former refuges.