Large carnivores regain territory
Coming across a lynx, hearing a wolf howl, seeing a bear. Perhaps it may no longer be so difficult and unusual in some areas, not now that these species are recolonising much of their historic range in Europe.
After being pushed to the brink of extinction in the last century, lynxes, wolves and bears have been recolonising Europe in recent decades, as a result not of the gradual expansion of protected areas, but of changes in land use and population density. This is the finding of a recent study carried out by an international group of 11 countries coordinated by researchers from the Department of Biology and Biotechnology of Sapienza University of Rome and the National Research Council (CNR). These factors appear to have influenced the return of large carnivores to Europe over the past 24 years, but until now the actual role played had been unclear. The outcomes of the study, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, indicate that between 1992 and 2015 the combination of these elements contributed to an increase in the occurrence of these three species in eastern Europe, the Balkans, the north-western Iberian Peninsula and northern Scandinavia, while contrasting trends emerged for western and southern Europe.
"Likely, the coexistence of large carnivores with humans in Europe is not only related to the availability of suitable habitat, but also to factors such as human tolerance and policies to reduce the hunting of these species" - says Marta Cimatti of Sapienza University, first author of the paper - "and this allows for new opportunities to reconcile conservation and management of these species with socio-economic development in rural areas."
Luca Santini, a researcher at Sapienza University and the CNR and senior author of the study, highlights how "exploiting socio-economic and landscape changes to create new recovery opportunities for the species will be a challenge for Europe, which will have to be accompanied by proper environmental education, legislation and management aimed at mitigating conflicts between humans and wildlife in areas recently recolonised by these large carnivores."
"The association between changing land use, rural abandonment, increasing protected areas and the expansion of large carnivores in Europe will be important in the coming decades," - concludes Luigi Boitani of Sapienza University, co-author and president of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe - "and suggests that the recolonisation of vast areas of Europe will continue and that therefore greater efforts will be needed to make humans and these large carnivores coexist."
Large carnivore expansion in Europe is associated with human population density and land cover changes – Cimatti M., Ranc N., Benítez-López A., Maiorano L., Boitani L., Cagnacci F., Čengić M., Ciucci P., Huijbregts M.A.J., Krofel M., López Bao J., Selva N., Andren H., Bautista C., Cirovic D., Hemmingmoore H., Reinhardt I., Marenče M., Mertzanis Y., Pedrotti L., Trbojević I., Zetterberg A., Zwijacz-Kozica T., Santini L – Diversity and Distributions, 2021. DOI https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ddi.13219
Department of Biology and Biotechnology "Charles Darwin"