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Evidence of wolf dispersal in anthropogenic habitats of the Polish Carpathian Mountains


In the course of their maturation, most young wolves leave their natal pack and disperse in search for mating partners, improved food availability and new territories. We investigated whether this dispersal is affected by anthropogenic infrastructure in a 5,000 km² area of the eastern region of the Polish Carpathian Mountains occupied by wolves. A radio-collared male wolf covered 230 km while dispersing through forested hills and densely populated valleys. To test if such dispersal is common in the population we analysed by microsatellite genotyping 39 samples taken from live-trapped wolves or wolves found dead in the study area. Although the obtained genotypes were assigned to different clusters in Bayesian tests, we could not ascribe this structure to landscape features, but rather to shared ancestry of wolf individuals found in distant locations. Moreover, we could not detect a spatial genetic structure in the wolf population, indicating a random occurrence of genotypes within the study area. Observation of the dispersing wolf and the absence of spatial genetic structure imply that wolves are still able to roam the entire area despite high densities of roads and a dense human population. Thus, we concluded that the existing anthropogenic infrastructure does not restrict wolf dispersal in the area and the studied wolves represent a coherent part of the Polish Carpathian wolf population.

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This study was performed within the scope of the Bieszczady Wolf Project in the Polish Carpathians. Field work was funded by the Polish National Committee for Scientific Research (KBN 6P04F 006), and the Museum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences. The genetic work was financed by the Molecular Zoology Unit, TU Muenchen. We thank J. Amarowicz, M. Bajda, B. Budzyn, S. Kaczor, R. Kapuściński, Z. Kopczak, A. Koszler, G. Łukacijewski, J. Mazur, R. Paszkiewicz, A. Pawlak, B. Pirga, J. Polityński, S. Stąpor, M. Szkutnik, W. Śmietana and T. Zając for helping to collect the samples. We thank S. Drevet, M. Januszczak and B. Pirga for assistance in radio-telemetry, B. Pirga and J. Theuerkauf for help in GIS analysis and B. Suppan for support in the lab. We also thank U. Kuehn and two anonymous reviewers for revisions of an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Roman Gula.

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Gula, R., Hausknecht, R. & Kuehn, R. Evidence of wolf dispersal in anthropogenic habitats of the Polish Carpathian Mountains. Biodivers Conserv 18, 2173–2184 (2009).

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  • Wolf
  • Canis lupus
  • Anthropogenic habitats
  • Barriers
  • Dispersal
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Microsatellites
  • Molecular genetics