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Resting in risky environments: the importance of cover for wolves to cope with exposure risk in human-dominated landscapes

Llaneza, Luis, García, Emilio J., Palacios, Vicente, Sazatornil, Víctor, López-Bao, José Vicente
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.8 pp. 1515-1528
Canis lupus, canopy, carnivores, cropland, forest plantations, forests, humans, landscapes, manmade structures, people, planning, risk, roads, shrublands, wolves, Iberian Peninsula
Centuries of persecution have influenced the behaviour of large carnivores. For those populations persisting in human-dominated landscapes, complete spatial segregation from humans is not always possible, as they are in close contact with people even when they are resting. The selection of resting sites is expected to be critical for large carnivore persistence in human-dominated landscapes, where resting sites must offer protection to counteract exposure risk. Using wolves (Canis lupus) as a model species, we hypothesised that selection of resting sites by large carnivores in human-dominated landscapes will be not only influenced by human activities, but also strongly determined by cover providing concealment. We studied the fine-scale attributes of 546 wolf resting sites and confronted them to 571 random points in NW Iberia. Half of resting sites (50.8 %) were found in forests (mainly forest plantations, 73.1 %), 43.4 % in scrublands, and only 5.8 % in croplands. Compared to random points, wolves located their resting sites far away from paved and large unpaved roads and from settlements, whereas they significantly selected areas with high availability of horizontal (refuge) and canopy cover. The importance of refuge was remarkably high, with its independent contribution alone being more important than the contribution of all the variables related to human pressure (distances) pooled (51.1 vs 42.8 %, respectively). The strength of refuge selection allowed wolves even to rest relatively close to manmade structures, such as roads and settlements (sometimes less than 200 m). Maintaining high-quality refuge areas becomes an important element to favour the persistence of large carnivores in human-dominated landscapes as well as human-carnivore coexistence, which can easily be integrated in landscape planning.