The population of one of Ireland's most elusive mammals, the pine marten, has recovered to healthy numbers in the midlands, a new study has found.
The research by teams at NUI Galway and Waterford Institute of Technology used DNA techniques to analyse the number of pine martens in the midlands and east.
It found that pine marten numbers appear to be healthy in these areas and slightly higher than in other parts of Europe.
The team, led by Dr Emma Sheehy and Dr Colin Lawton of the Ryan Institute's Mammal Ecology Group in NUI Galway, put the findings down to a lack of competition with other mammal species, relatively warm winters and lack of seasonality in Ireland.
The research is to be published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research and is funded by the Irish Research Council and European Squirrel Initiative.
The team also claims that little is known about how many pine martens there could potentially be in Europe, because the population has been severely damaged by human activities, such as hunting, persecution and deforestation.
Since the 1970s, the population of pine martens has grown as they have been protected by law.
Nevertheless, the research team found that while the population has recovered in the midlands, there are still relatively few pine martens in the east and none in some parts of Ireland.