Wolf recovery and population dynamics in Western Poland, 2001–2012

Abstract

Since the mid-twentieth century, under different management regimes (over 20 years of a wolf control program followed by 20 years of trophy hunting), wolves were absent or rare in Western Poland (hereinafter WPL). They became strictly protected in the whole country in 1998 and started to re-settle the vast forests of WPL, far (376 ± 106.5 km) from the source population in eastern Poland. In 2002–2012, the population increased from several to approximately 140 wolves living in 30 family groups, with an annual rate of increase of 38 % (λ = 1.38, SE = 0.10). The area of permanent occurrence increased from 600 to 10,900 km2, with an average density of 1.3 wolves/100 km2. The nearest neighbour distance between wolf territories decreased from 260 to 25 km. In 2001–2005, half of the settlement efforts by wolves failed after 1–2 years whereas in 2006–2009 only one fifth of newly settled wolves failed to persist >2 years. The number of wolves in groups varied from 2 to 9, and the mean group size increased from 1.8 in 2001 to 4.8 in 2012. The survival of pups from May to the end of November was 50 % (the mean number of pups per litter was 5.1 and 2.5, respectively). Of 28 wolves found dead, 65 % were killed by vehicles, 25 % were poached, and 7 % died because of diseases and natural factors. All road casualties were young wolves, most of them male (67 %), hit on roads on average 11.6 km from the centre of the nearest pack. The re-colonisation of WPL started from jump dispersal, which allowed wolves to establish packs in distant locations. As the recovery proceeded, the dispersal pattern shifted to being stratified, a mixture of diffusion and jump dispersal that resulted in the creation of packs in close vicinity to existing groups. After 12 years of re-colonisation, wolves in Western Poland occupied about 30 % of potential suitable habitats.

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Acknowledgments

This project was supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (USA), EuroNatur (Germany), Wolves and Humans Foundation (UK) and the statutory budget of the Association for Nature “Wolf” (Poland). RWM was also funded by the National Science Centre (Poland), grant number DEC-2014/12/S/NZ8/00624. We thank numerous volunteers and co-workers for their field assistance, especially W. Bena, T. Biernacki, R. Dobosz, M. Figura, K. Karpowicz, A. Kasprzak, A. Kłosińska, K. Kurek, M. Maciantowicz, K. Patalas, M. Patalas, Z. Skibiński, T. Skowronek, W. Skowronek, J. Szczęsna-Staśkiewicz, P. Tomczak, M. Tracz, M. Tracz, R. Urban, K. Weksej, J. Więckowski and K. Woźniak. We are grateful to L. Phipps and T. Diserens for linguistic advice, as well as Dr. Tomasz Borowik for his help in preparing figures. We thank Dr. Bogumiła Jędrzejewska and an Anonymous Reviewer for suggestions that led to a greatly improved manuscript.

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Communicated by: Karol Zub

Appendices

Appendix 1. Development of the wolf population in Western Poland in 2001–2012

In 2001, WPL was inhabited by a small pack of wolves (with one to two young): one pair and a small group which probably escaped from an illegal enclosure. There was also evidence of at least two loners (see Fig. 2). In 2002, we found signs of one pack, one group of fugitives and no less than two single wolves in the study area. In 2003, wolves disappeared from some forests to appear in other forests, without a single reproduction confirmed. In total, we recorded the presence of ca. 8 wolves at that time. In 2004, the development of the population slowly began by the establishment of three pairs and two small packs with confirmed reproduction: a total of 18 wolves. In 2005, altogether four packs and a pair were present in WPL (about 23–25 wolves); all four family groups reared pups. In 2006, the number of groups rose to six (including four packs and two pairs), and in 2007, the population increased to nine groups (five packs and four pairs): altogether 34–36 wolves were confirmed. At this point, wolves occurred in seven forest tracts, and more than one pack was recorded in two big woodlands (see Fig. 2). In 2008, 14 wolf groups (nine packs and five pairs, 49–56 wolves) lived in nine large forests, and at least nine family groups had reproduced. In 2009, altogether 15 resident packs and a pair were found (69–75 wolves). In 2010, at least 22 groups (17 packs and five pairs, 89–100 wolves) were recorded in 12 forests; four forests were inhabited by more than one pack. In 2011, about 26 groups (20 packs and six pairs, 111–116 wolves) were confirmed to be present. At the end of the study period, in the winter of 2012/2013, the wolf population reached at least 30 groups (25–26 packs and 4–5 pairs, 136–142 wolves) (see Fig. 2 and Table 2). We recorded reproduction in at least 25 packs. These groups occurred in the 14 largest woodlands in WPL.

Table 2 Characteristics of the wolf population during winter seasons in WPL, 2001/2002–2012/2013

Appendix 2

figurea

Chronology of wolf appearance and persistence of wolf groups in forests of Western Poland, 2001–2012. ID of forest complex refers to number of forest in Fig. 1. Numbers in blocks are numbers of wolves in groups

Appendix 3

Table 3 Mortality of wolves in Western Poland from 2001 to the end of April 2013

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Nowak, S., Mysłajek, R.W. Wolf recovery and population dynamics in Western Poland, 2001–2012. Mamm Res 61, 83–98 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-016-0263-3

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Keywords

  • Canis lupus
  • Population growth
  • Species range
  • Pack persistence
  • Group size
  • Reproduction
  • Pup survival
  • Mortality
  • Dispersal pattern