Badger behaviour and ecology

Despite their emblematic status, assumed knowledge on the socio-ecology of badgers, even that based on older research, proves increasingly incongruous; providing an inadequate basis to decide management policy. Starting from 1987 at the Wytham Woods research site, the 9500 + captures of 1548 individuals, for which detailed data has been gathered, have afforded unique insights into badger society. We have demonstrated that they do not in fact live in discrete groups, but rather trespass into supposed neighbouring group ranges and visit other group setts. Here they mate, with almost 50% of cubs fathered by extra-group males, although with scant evidence of any offspring advantages. Only limited social interactions can be observed, typically on a purely reciprocal basis, and communication mediated primarily by scent secretion and olfaction. Population dynamics also prove intriguing, interacting strongly with weather conditions, in both absolute terms and with an adverse effect of unpredictable weather variability. Dry summers exacerbate the effect of endo-parasitic infections, leading to cub mortality; and while mild winters favour survival overall, greater ranging activity is associated with more traffic fatalities. Ultimately, the chapter exposes how it is the dispersion of key resources, and in particular earthworms, which best explains badger socio-spatial geometries. This intersects with agricultural practice and land management, where the mosaic of worm-rich fields, peppered with wooded copses, that typify the British countryside have created conditions where this otherwise more solitary mustelid thrives, and is consequently forced into high-density living. The result is an awkward compromise, where their socio-ecology lags their actual ecological circumstances.

David W. Macdonald
Chris Newman
Christina D. Buesching

Related Pages

The Badger Project


Macdonald, D.W., C. Newman, C.D. Buesching and P.J. Johnson. (2008). Male-biased movement in a high-density population of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles). Journal of Mammalogy, 89:1077-1086.

Kilshaw, K., Newman, C., Buesching, C.D., Bunyan, J. & Macdonald, D.W. (2009). Investigating coordinated latrine use by European badgers Meles meles: Potential consequences for territory defence. Journal of Mammalogy, 90: 1188-1198.

Macdonald, D.W., Newman, C., Nouvellet, P.M. & Buesching, C.D. (2009). An analysis of Eurasian badger (Meles meles) population dynamics: Implications for regulatory mechanisms. Journal of Mammalogy, 90: 1392-1403.

Macdonald, D.W., Newman, C., Buesching, C.D. and Nouvellet, P. (2010). Are badgers ‘Under The Weather’? Direct and indirect impacts of climate variation on European badger (Meles meles) population dynamics. Global Change Biology, 16: 2913–2922

Nouvellet, P., Buesching, C. D., Dugdale, H. L., Newman, C. and Macdonald, D. W. (2011). Mouthing off about developmental stress: Individuality of palate marking in the European badger and its relationship with juvenile parasitoses. Journal of Zoology, 283: 52–62.

Dugdale HL, Davison D, Baker SE, Ellwood SA, Newman C, Buesching CD & Macdonald DW. 2011. Female teat size is a reliable indicator of annual breeding success in European badgers: genetic validation. Mammalian Biology, 76: 716–721.

Dugdale HL, Pope LC, Newman C, Macdonald DW & Burke T. (2011). Age-specific breeding success in a wild mammalian population: selection, constraint, restraint and senescence. Molecular Ecology 20: 3261–3274.

Annavi G, Dawson DA, Horsburgh GJ, Greig C, Dugdale HL, Newman C, Macdonald DW, Burke T. (2011). Characterisation of twenty-one European badger (Meles meles) microsatellite loci facilitates the discrimination of second-order relatives. Conservation Genetic Resources, 3: 515–518.

Lizundia R, Newman C, Buesching CD, Ngugi D, Blake D, et al. (2011) Evidence for a Role of the Host-Specific Flea (Paraceras melis) in the Transmission of Trypanosoma (Megatrypanum) pestanai to the European Badger. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16977. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016977

Montes, I., Newman, C., Mian, R. and Macdonald, D. W. (2011), Radical health: ecological corollaries of body condition, transport stress and season on plasma antioxidant capacity in the European badger. Journal of Zoology 284: 114–123.

Newman, C., Zhou, Y-B., Buesching, C.D., Kaneko, Y. & Macdonald, D.W. (2011). Contrasting sociality in two widespread, generalist, mustelid genera, Meles and Martes. Mammal Study, 36:169-188.

Sin YW, Dugdale HL, Newman C, Macdonald DW & Burke T. (2012). MHC class II genes in the European badger (Meles meles): characterization, patterns of variation, and transcription analysis. Immunogenetics, 64: 313–327.

Sin, YW, Dugdale HL, Newman C, Macdonald DW & Burke T. (2012). Evolution of MHC class I genes in the European badger (Meles meles). Ecology and Evolution, 2: 1644-1662.

Nouvellet, P., Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2013). A Multi-Metric Approach to Investigate the Effects of Weather Conditions on the Demographic of a Terrestrial Mammal, the European Badger (Meles meles). PloS one, 8(7), e68116.

Bilham, K., Sin, Y. W., Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2013). An example of life history antecedence in the European badger (Meles meles): rapid development of juvenile antioxidant capacity, from plasma vitamin E analogue. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 25: 330-350.

Noonan M.J., Markham, A., Newman, C. Buesching, C.D., Ellwood, S.A. & Macdonald, D.W. (2014) Climate and the Individual: Inter-Annual Variation in the Autumnal Activity of the European Badger (Meles meles). PloS one, 9(1), e83156.

Annavi, G., Newman, C., Buesching, C.D., Burke, T  Macdonald, & Dugdale, H.L. D.W (2014) Heterozygosity–fitness correlations in a wild mammal population: single locus, paternal and environmental effects. Ecology and Evolution, 4: 2594–2609.

Annavi, G., Newman, C., Dugdale, H.L. Buesching, C.D., Sin, Y.W. Burke, T &  Macdonald, D.W (2014) Neighbouring-group composition and relatedness drive extra-group paternity rate in the European badger (Meles meles). Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27: 2191–2203.

Sin, Y. W., Annavi, G., Dugdale, H. L., Newman, C., Burke, T., & Macdonald, D. W. (2014). Pathogen burden, co‐infection and major histocompatibility complex variability in the European badger (Meles meles). Molecular Ecology, 23: 5072-5088.

Newman, C. & Macdonald, D.W. (2015). The Implications of climate change for terrestrial UK Mammals. Terrestrial biodiversity Climate change impacts report card Technical paper. Living with environmental change partnership. NERC.

Noonan, M. J., Markham, A., Newman, C., Trigoni, N., Buesching, C. D., Ellwood, S. A., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). A new Magneto‐Inductive tracking technique to uncover subterranean activity: what do animals do underground?. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 6: 510-520.

Sin, Y. W., Annavi, G., Newman, C., Buesching, C., Burke, T., Macdonald, D. W., & Dugdale, H. L. (2015). MHC class II‐assortative mate choice in European badgers (Meles meles). Molecular Ecology, 24: 3138-3150.

Sin, Y. W., Newman, C., Dugdale, H. L Buesching, C.D., Mannarelli, M-E., Annavi, G., C., Burke, T., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016) No compensatory relationship between the innate and adaptive immune system in wild-living European badgers. PLoS-1 11(10), e0163773

Noonan, M. J., Rahman, M. A., Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). Avoiding verisimilitude when modelling ecological responses to climate change: the influence of weather conditions on trapping efficiency in European badgers (Meles meles). Global Change Biology, 21: 3575-3585.

Noonan, M. J., Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). Evolution and function of fossoriality in the Carnivora: implications for group-living. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 3.

Tinnesand, HV, Buesching, CD, Noonan, MJ, Newman, C, Zedrosser, A, Rossel, FN & Macdonald, DW (2015). Will trespassers be prosecuted or assessed according to their merits? A consilient interpretation of territoriality in a group-living Carnivore, the European badger (Meles meles). PloS one, 10(7), e0132432.

Sun, Q., Stevens, C., Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). Cumulative experience, age-class, sex and season affect the behavioural responses of European badgers (Meles meles) to handling and sedation. Animal Welfare, 24: 373-385.

Buesching, C. D., Newman, C., Service, K., Macdonald, D. W., & Riordan, P. (2016). Latrine marking patterns of badgers (Meles meles) with respect to population density and range size. Ecosphere, 7(5).

Clinchy, M., Zanette, L. Y., Roberts, D., Suraci, J. P., Buesching, C. D., Newman, C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016). Fear of the human “super predator” far exceeds the fear of large carnivores in a model mesocarnivore. Behavioral Ecology, 27: 1826-1832.

Silva, A.P, Curviera-Santos, G. Kilshaw, K., Newman, C., Macdonald, D.W.  Simões, L & Rosalino, L.M.  (2017). Climatic conditions and anthropogenic factors determine site occupancy in a range-edge badger population: implications for conservation under environmental change. Diversity and Distributions, 2: 627-639.

Bilham, K., Boyd, A. Newman, C., Buesching, C.D., Preston, S., Macdonald, D.W. & Smith, A. (2017). Badger macrophages fail to produce nitric oxide, a key anti-mycobacterial effector molecule. Nature – Scientific Reports, 7

Ellwood, S.A., Newman, C., Montgomery, R.A., Vincenzo, N., Buesching, C.D., Markham, A. Mascalo, C., Trigoni, N., Pasztor, B., Dyo, C. & Macdonald, D.W. (in press).  An Active Radio Frequency Identification system capable of identifying co-locations and social-structure: validation with a wild free-ranging animal. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.