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Distribution, habitat suitability, and connectivity of wolves (Canis lupus) in the Alps

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Year of publication2011
Author(s)Francesca Marucco
Publisher(s)Umweltbundesamt Österreich
Place of publicationValdieri
Publication typeJournal, booklet
Wolves recently recolonized the Western Alps through dispersal from the Apennines after being extirpated throughout most of Western Europe and in the Alps during the 20th century. Effective management of this protected species relies on understanding distribution, on the underlying dynamics of colonization and abandonment of portions of the landscape, and on the development of a habitat suitability model that explains these patterns. This information can be used to improve the understanding of the habitat connectivity required for the recolonization and maintenance of a dynamic wolf population over the Alps.
The main goals of this work were defined in the framework of the "ECONNECT Project", and the analysis were conducted following these guidelines:
Analysis of species habitat needs in terms of habitat connectivity (e.g. maxi-mum distances, characteristics of corridors/stepping stones).
Spatial analysis of current and potential habitats, their lack of connectivity and its reasons (qualitative and quantitative assessment).
Characterisation of the barriers by their origin, size, shape and degree of permeability and assessment of possibilities to diminish them
The results showed the lowest levels of connectivity between source areas in the Pennine and Lepontine Alps, between Switzerland and Italy. The high level of management fragmentation present over the Alps, due to the international alpine landscape divided within several countries, is an important issue related to wolf conservation and connectivity. From this landscape analysis, the Pennine and Lepontine Alps, especially of Switzerland, are a critical part in the overall wolf alpine connectivity, where no consistent source areas for wolf packs were identified. This needs to be added to the fact that currently Switzerland is the only country in the Alps with a program of legal wolf removals of solitary and dispersal wolves, despite the very low density of the predator in the country and no packs settled yet.