Bassi, Elena and Willis, Stephen G. and Passilongo, Daniela and Mattioli, Luca and Apollonio, Marco (2015) Predicting the spatial distribution of wolf (Canis lupus) breeding areas in a mountainous region of central Italy. PLoS One, Vol. 10 (6), e0124698. ISSN 1932-6203. Article.
Wolves (Canis lupus) in Italy represent a relict west European population. They are classified as vulnerable by IUCN, though have increased in number and expanded their range in recent decades. Here we use 17 years of monitoring data (from 1993 to 2010) collected in a mountainous region of central Italy (Arezzo, Tuscany) in an ecological niche-based model (MaxEnt) to characterize breeding sites (i.e. the areas where pups were raised) within home ranges, as detected from play-back responses. From a suite of variables related to topography, habitat and human disturbance we found that elevation and distance to protected areas were most important in explaining the locality of wolf responses. Rendezvous sites (family play-back response sites) typically occurred between 800 and 1200 m a.s.l., inside protected areas, and were usually located along mountain chains distant from human settlements and roads. In these areas human disturbance is low and the densities of ungulates are typically high. Over recent years, rendezvous sites have occurred closer to urban areas as the wolf population has continued to expand, despite the consequent human disturbance. This suggests that undisturbed landscapes may be reaching their carrying capacity for wolves. This, in turn, may lead to the potential for increased human-wolf interactions in future. Applying our model, both within and beyond the species’ current range, we identify sites both within the current range and also further afield, that the species could occupy in future. Our work underlines the importance of the present protected areas network in facilitating the recolonisation by wolves. Our projections of suitability of sites for future establishment as the population continues to expand could inform planning to minimize future wolf-human conflicts.
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