In Belarus there are three main types of habitat combinations that are mostly inhabited by a local population of lynxes. So, such a habitat combination should include not only suitable habitats for living of a lynx, but also it should have enough space for many lynxes, where there are sufficient carrying capacity, first of all, prey species i.e. food.
In our study we would like to define a local population of lynxes as a territory-neighboring group of minimally 12-15 individuals. Within 12-15 lynxes there are, at least, 3 sexually matured females. Such a territory-neighboring group of lynxes is more or less stable during mating season. When there are fewer than 12-15 lynxes, being a polygamous species, adult males tend to spread widely during mating season in search of a mate, if females in heat do not arrive themselves. Such a male can do not return to this area, where there are so a few adult females. The next years, having no or shortage of adult males, breeding females tend to spread far away as well, and such a territory-neighboring group of lynxes gradually disappears.
By returning to the three types of habitat combinations that are mostly inhabited by a local population of lynxes in Belarus, at first, it should be stated that, of course, all three types are forested landscapes. In Belarus lynxes avoid large openings without or with few woody cover. We assume that such a preference for forest biotopes in lynxes has its origins in the strong interference with wolves. In an open terrain lynxes are vulnerable to attacks of wolf packs, whereas in forested terrain lynxes can easily escape from wolves by climbing trees, or use trees during a fight with a wolf.
The first habitat combination, which is inhabited by lynxes in Belarus, is mixed forest that consists of coniferous (spruce, pine) and small-leaved deciduous trees (mostly aspen, birch spp. and alder spp.) on richer or poorer soils (respectively, higher or low clay content in top-grounds). Paazierre Forest, which was already described and well-illustrated in Chapter 2, is such typical habitat combination. Therefore, we will not repeat the detailed description and photos of this habitat combination.
This near-boreal type of forest habitat combination is widely spread in the northern part and in most of the central part of Belarus. In this habitat combination lynx territories can be potentially evenly distributed. Eolic sand dune massifs with homogenous pine stands that are interspersed with hypereutrophic bogs covered by suppressed pines are usually less than 400 km² in size in the northern and central Belarus. Only such poor quality habitats on a large space can significantly rarefy lynx population, nevertheless, there is no much such an effect in the regions. However, even the mentioned poor habitats on sand or peat soils may attract some lynxes in places of capercaillie concentrations (overwintering places, leks and nesting areas).
In the first habitat combination in the example of Paazierre Forest lynxes mainly stayed in surroundings of forested river banksides and shores of glacial lakes. Taking such a surroundings as 300 meters in each side, we may report that according to track registrations lynxes stayed in such habitats for 72% (n=133) in the warm season (April-October, hereafter may be as WS) and for 69% (n=309) in the cold season (November-March, hereafter may be as CS). Concerning the telemetry data, lynxes stayed in surroundings of forested river banksides and shores of glacial lakes for 79% of fixes (n=805) in the warm season and 64% of fixes (n=587) in the cold season. Another habitat type, which was relatively often used by lynxes, was clearcuts with early reforestations and their close proximities: 17% (track registrations) and 12% (telemetry) in the warm season; 14% and 20% in the cold season, respectively.
The second forest habitat combination, which may be inhabited by lynxes, is similar to the first one, but it is ecologically richer with some nemoral character. This forest habitat combination is again a mixed forest that consists of coniferous and deciduous trees. The difference between the first and second forest habitat combinations is that in the second one the forest floor is richer and the tree stands also contain broad-leaved deciduous trees (lime, oak, maple, ash), resulting in a higher biomass of seed crop. These features and milder winter conditions result in higher habitat carrying capacity for lynxes with richer food base and easier survival during winter, particularly for subadults. This more nemoral type of forest is widely spread in a part of central Belarus (particularly central west) and in a part of southern Belarus (northwards of the Prypiats’ valley). Naliboki Forest, which was already described and well-illustrated in Chapter 2, is such typical habitat combination. Therefore, we will not repeat all those.
In this habitat combination, as in the first type, lynx territories can be potentially evenly distributed. Again, eolic sand dune massifs with homogenous pine stands that are interspersed with hypereutrophic bogs covered by suppressed pines are usually less than 400 km² in these regions of Belarus. So, poor quality habitats on a large space can not significantly rarefy lynx population in the regions.
In the second habitat combination in the example of Naliboki Forest we did not find the pattern of lynx distribution in the variety of habitats as one in Paazierre Forest. According to lynx track registrations, in Naliboki Forest lynxes mainly stayed in five following habitat types: forested surroundings of drained lands that are semi-abandoned nowadays, but still basically open (24% of registrations in WS, n= 203; 20% of registrations in CS, n=498); abandoned and semi-forested peateries (13% and 7%, respectively); old broadleaved deciduous forest mainly in the valley of Biarezina river (19% and 9%, respectively); old spruce-prevailed forest with treefall (6% and 17%, respectively); and forest fragments with clearcuts and treefalls (22% and 31%, respectively).
Looking at the real distribution of lynxes in the space of first and second habitat combinations in Belarus, we mainly found already mentioned territory-neighboring group of lynxes from several and up to around 40 individuals. Such territorial groups of lynxes were separated by similar landscape almost without any lynxes for quite long distance. We assume that phenomenon is a trait of a strongly unsaturated population from one hand, and from the other hand, that is trying of lynxes to stay around each other normalizind spatial structure of local population because of breeding needs. Plausibly poaching was the main cause of the unsaturated state of the lynx population.
The third forest habitat combination, which may be inhabited by lynxes in Belarus, is situated in the southern part of the country southwards of the Prypiats’ valley. This huge forest we call Right-bank Paliessje Forest (i.e. at the right bank of the Prypiats’ big river). It is a vast mosaic of forest habitats that basically consists of pine stands, deciduous forest, grassy marshlands and hypereutrophic bogs on very poor sand or peat soils. There pine stands on sand or boggy soils as well as other poor quality habitats for lynxes largely prevail in the landscape and they occupy huge area. This generally quite poor for lynx forest massif southwards of the Prypiats’ valley is populated by the species, but with a low density due to the low habitat carrying capacity. The ecologically rich Prypiats’ valley is mostly unpopulated by lynxes because of the large and long-lasting spring flood. In this Right-bank Paliessje Forest we mainly registered presence of lynxes alone valleys of rivers, which are right-bank tributaries of Prypiats’. Between such line-distributed groups of lynxes, which consist of 10-20 individuals, there were only some other individuals that inhabited other type of forested environment e.g. a group of islands among huge bog that connects with mainland by a dry land peninsula. A total, density of this local population of lynxes in Right-bank Paliessje Forest was fairly low compared to one in the first and second habitat combinations e.g. in Paazierre Forest and Naliboki Forest. In 2008-2014 0.4-1 lynxes per 100 km² were sensused there; in 2017 – 0.1-0.3 lynxes per 100 km².