Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Spatial population dynamics of recolonizing wolves in the Western Alps
by Marucco, Francesca, Ph.D., University of Montana, 2009, 143; 3359439
Abstract (Summary)

The wolf recolonized part of its former habitat in the South-Western Alps through dispersal from the Apennines beginning in the late 1990s. Prioritization of conservation actions and effective management of this species relies on estimates of wolf population trend, survival rates, occupancy parameters, and on the development of a spatially explicit population model. These estimates were lacking in Italy and Western Europe, and accurate and cost effective methods to assess these parameters have not been implemented.

I used genetic capture-mark-recapture techniques with long-term fecal genotyping data and applied open-population models to estimate survival rates and assess trend in abundance of wolves in the Western Alps. The wolf population in the study area increased from 21 ± 10 wolves in 1999 to 47 ± 11 wolves in late winter 2005. Young wolves (< 1 year old) had lower apparent annual survival rates (0.24 ± 0.06) than adult wolves (0.82 ± 0.04).

I applied an unconditional multi-season occupancy model to estimate wolf occupancy dynamics. Human disturbance (β = -5.553, SE = 2.186) and rock-area cover (β = -4.129, SE = 1.392) had negative effects on occupancy, while the presence of red deer (β = 0.694, SE = 0.306) and forested-area cover (β = 0.596, SE = 0.458) had positive effects. The wolf recolonization process was characterized by a Markovian change in occupancy and the sites were not in an equilibrium state. This is typical of an expanding population.

The habitat suitability map produced from the occupancy analyses was fundamental for the development of a spatially explicit, individual-based model which allowed a full analysis of this complex spatial and temporal wolf recolonization of the Italian Alps. I predicted wolf pack numbers, along with pack locations and wolf population size, over the Italian Alps in 2013, 2018, and 2023. I predicted 25 packs (95%CI – 19, 32) in 2013, 36 (95%CI – 23, 47) in 2018, and 49 (95%CI – 29, 68) in 2023. The South-Western Alps were the main source for wolves repopulating the Alps from 1999-2008. This main source area will likely be shifted to the Cozie Alps after 2008. In the next 15 years, the primary source for wolves repopulating the Alps will likely move to the north which could allow the full recolonization of the Eastern part of the Alps.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Pletscher, Daniel H.
Commitee: Allendorf, Fred W., Boitani, Luigi, Boyd, Diane K., Graham, Jon, Hebblewhite, Mark, Schwartz, Michael K.
School: University of Montana
Department: Fish & Wildlife Biology
School Location: United States -- Montana
Source: DAI-B 70/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Ecology, Organismal biology
Keywords: Alps, Canis lupus, Occupancy dynamics, Population dynamics, Spatial modeling, Wolves
Publication Number: 3359439
ISBN: 978-1-109-20272-4
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