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Keywords:

  • Canis lupus;
  • grey wolf;
  • dispersal;
  • pack formation;
  • tenure;
  • mortality

Abstract

Wolf Canis lupus dispersal, social structure and mortality have been extensively studied in natural and semi-natural areas of North America and northern Europe but have never been assessed in agricultural areas. From 1997 to 2004, 14 wolves (11 in a wolf-saturated area and three in a low-density area) were radio-collared with long-lasting transmitters in a Spanish agricultural area containing a high-human-population density, a dense network of roads and a shortage of wild ungulates. The wolves mainly feed on an overabundance of livestock carrion. Nine wolves (one of them, three times) dispersed during the study period. The mean age and distance of natal dispersal were 24.8 months and 32 km. The natal dispersal period was much longer in wolves radio-collared in the saturated area (mean >14.6 months) than in the low-density area (<1 month). All three of the dispersers living in the low-density area, and two of the six dispersers in the saturated area settled and bred during the study. The average tenure of six breeders was 4.5 years. The radio-collared wolves spent 72% of the monitoring time living in packs and the rest living in pairs, as dispersers or as peripheral wolves, but the percentage of loners was much higher in the saturated (33.5%) than in the low density (1.6%) areas. The overall annual mortality was 18% (lower than in most populations studied in less modified habitats), but lone wolves had a significantly higher mortality than members of packs and pairs. Nine wolves died during the study, none of them due to natural causes. In general, our results are very similar to those obtained in less modified habitats, except for the dispersal distance, which was much shorter than in other studies. We suggest that barriers and habitat constraints may reduce dispersal distances in our study area.