Long-distance dispersal connects Dinaric-Balkan and Alpine grey wolf (Canis lupus) populations
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In the last two centuries, persecution and deforestation caused grey wolf Canis lupus populations in Europe to decline. Recently, their numbers started to recover although most populations still remain isolated from one another. This study presents the first documented evidence of the successful reconnection of the Dinaric-Balkan and the Alpine wolf populations via long-distance dispersal and subsequent reproduction. A young male wolf radiocollared in the Dinaric Mountains in July 2011 travelled through Slovenia and Austria to the Italian Alps, where he settled in March 2012. During the 98 days of dispersal period, the wolf has travelled a cumulative line distance of 1176 km crossing multiple anthropogenic and natural barriers, and successfully hunting wild prey until he settled 233 km straight line distance from its natal territory. Camera trapping, snow tracking and genetic evidence in the new territory confirmed pairing with a female wolf from the neighbouring Alpine population. In the following year, the pair has produced a first documented “mixed” litter between wolves from the Dinaric-Balkan and the Alpine wolf populations. This case study demonstrates the potential for the future merging of European wolf populations even in human-dominated landscapes and highlights the importance of transboundary cooperation in wolf research and management.
KeywordsGrey wolf Canis lupus Long-distance dispersal GPS collar Population joining Recolonization Central Europe
We would like to thank Calderola S, Ferrais D, Geiler T, Gerstrasser L, Gutleb B, Kranz A, Liberali S, Marucco F, Muralt G, Novšak Š, Parricelli P, Signori L, and Valbusa F for their contribution at the field, to Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (I.S.P.R.A.; Italy), Carnivore Genetics Laboratory (Forest Service of Missoula—Montana, USA) and ULBF (Group for Animal Ecology, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) for the genetic analysis. We also thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by LIFE08 NAT/SLO/000244 SloWolf.
Compliance with ethical standards
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All capture and handling methods were approved by the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning (Permit no. 35601-145/2007-6).
Conflict of interests
The authors declare they have no competing interests.
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