Can social media be used to inform the distribution of the marbled polecat, Vormela peregusna?

Wright P. G. R., Croose E., Hunter S. B., MacPherson J., Çoraman E., Yarotskiy V., ...More

Mammal Research, vol.68, no.3, pp.295-304, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 68 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s13364-023-00680-8
  • Journal Name: Mammal Research
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, BIOSIS, CAB Abstracts, Geobase, Veterinary Science Database
  • Page Numbers: pp.295-304
  • Keywords: Mustelidae, Carnivora, Monitoring, culturomics, i-Ecology
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


The marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna) is a small mustelid that occurs from the Balkans to Mongolia and is listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. There are currently no efficient methods to monitor populations at a broad scale and most records come from opportunistic sightings. However, the elusive nature and unique pelage of the species often results in a lot of interest when sighted, with observations regularly being shared on social media platforms. Such records from social media can provide an extensive source of freely available information that could be used to inform the species’ distribution. In this study, we systematically collected marbled polecat records from five social media platforms by using a manual and automated search targeting the western range of the species. We identified 131 unique marbled polecat sightings originating mostly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The records confirmed the species’ presence in 92 50-km grid cells within the study area and outperformed other sources, such as GBIF and scientific literature searches. The combination of all three datasets resulted in 133 presence points, which was sufficient enough to perform further habitat suitability modelling and reliable alpha hull range estimates. The social media search was well suited to clarify broad distribution patterns of marbled polecat, but did not detect the species in areas where its presence was most uncertain. The results of the modelling work, however, can be used to target further dedicated survey work for the species. The framework used in this study can be applied to provide more detailed information on distribution and occurrence patterns for other rare or under-studied species.