Iberian wolves live …Photo courtesy Raúl A. Netícola.
Study finds wolves in populated areas driven more by landscape factors than by food availability
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The social war over wolves isn’t unique to the U.S.
In Europe, Iberian wolves are also expanding their range, increasingly into areas where humans live, and their presence is not always welcome, according to Spanish researchers studying habitat requirements for the predator in Spain and Portugal.
What they’ve found in recent years is that the spread of wolves into populated areas is linked primarily to habitat requirements rather than the availability of food.
The habitat of the Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) varies greatly across the Iberian Peninsula and its diet revolves around what is available, ranging from wild animals to domestic waste.
“Although the wolf boasts highly adaptable strategies for survival, landscape is the factor we have analyzed that best explains their distribution across Galicia,”said Luis Llaneza, researcher at Asesores en Recursos Naturales (A.RE.NA.) and lead author of the study published in the Diversity and Distributions journal.
His research has allowed for the analysis of the relative influence of landscape attributes, human presence and food resources and the existence of wolves over an area of 30,000 square kilometers in northwestern part of the Iberian peninsula.
The scientists concentrated on indirect signs of the animal to identify their distribution in Galicia, especially scat. In total, they analyzed 1,594 excrement samples,which were verified using DNA molecular analysis to show how they are using available habitat.
The results suggest landscape properties are decisive in terms of animal safety at a level of 48 percent, whereas the presence of humans (buildings and roads) is influential at a level of 35 percent and food availability at 17 percent.
“As long as tolerated by humans, the wolf can be found in any place where there is refuge and food,” Llaneza said. According to the habitat models, the wolf presence would increase with more semi-wild horses and wild ungulates like deer.
“The amount of semi-wild horses in Galicia could be a key factor determining the presence of wolves in areas where wild prey or other food sources area not so abundant,” the study found.
After studying the effect of altitude, topogrpahy and refuge availability, researchers demonstrated that the mammals require habitat with a diverse plant community, including brush and grass at least 18 inches high, which enable the wolves to hide.
“These animals remain in Spain and little by little we are beginning to understand how they survive in human-dominated areas,” said Llaneza. The study show wolves choose high places that are difficult to access.
“The density of vegetation allows wolves to go unnoticed by humans”, he said, adding that humans are responsible for 91 percent of wolf deaths in the region, with 65 percent of the deaths resulting from collisions with vehicles, 20 percent from poaching and 6 percent from legal hunting.
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