Based on data collected during the National Wolf Census in 2000–01, we analysed the main habitat factors influencing the distribution and abundance of the wolf, Canis lupus, in northern Poland. The study region forms the western border of the continuous Eastern European range of wolves, although attempts at westward dispersal have been observed. Using Geographic Information System techniques, we measured nine habitat variables and three parameters related to wolf occurrence in 134 circular sample plots (radius 7 km, area 154 km2 each). We compared 72 plots where wolves were recorded and 62 plots with no signs of wolf presence. Wolf plots were characterized by significantly higher forest cover, less fragmentation of forests, lower density of villages, towns, motorways, and railways than wolf-free plots. We found a positive correlation between the sum of wolf observations in plots and forest cover. The number of domestic animals killed by wolves was higher in areas with higher indices of wolf abundance and lower forest area. In multiple regression analysis, four independent variables explained 59% of the variation in wolf distribution and abundance in northern Poland: straight-line distance to continuous range of wolves in Eastern Europe; forest cover; forest fragmentation; and length of major motorways. We conclude that protection of wolves in Poland (since 1998) may not be an adequate conservation measure, especially because of the increasing density of highways and express motorways. Existing forest corridors should be protected and new ones should be restored to ensure long-term conservation of wolves and allow range expansion into Western Europe.
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