Where do we go from here? Dispersal simulations shed light on the role of landscape structure in determining animal redistribution after reintroduction
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Reintroduction projects represent viable options for animal conservation. They allow the establishment of new local populations and may contribute to recreating functional networks within a metapopulation. In the latter case, landscape connectivity may be a major determinant of the phase of spread of the reintroduced populations. Here, we deal with an example of a red deer (Cervus elaphus) translocation planned to enable the connection among existing isolated populations of the species in the Italian Alps. Our aim was to assess whether the analysis of landscape suitability and the simulation of dispersal of released individuals could shed light on the actual process of population spread. For these purposes, we adopted a modelling approach using radiotracking data to develop a habitat suitability map. On the basis of this map, we simulated the dispersal of the animals after release and we then compared the simulation results with the outcome of null models and with the observed population redistribution. The results suggest that the spread of the subpopulation was easier north-westward than southward. Taking into account landscape suitability, our simulations produced a reliable estimate of the ease of colonization of the valleys neighbouring the release-site and they allowed the identification and validation of a potential pathway for animal dispersal. The suitability model based on the monitoring of individuals in the earliest phase of establishment shed light on the spread of the population and on its potential connections with other deer subpopulations.
KeywordsConnectivity Habitat suitability Italian Alps Radiotracking Red deer Reintroduction biology Resource utilization functions
Thanks are due to the Wildlife Managers Marco Giovo and Federica Gaydou for providing radiotracking data, to Olivier Friard for his technical support, and to Stefano Focardi for a review of an early draft of the paper.
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