Aim Understanding which human or environmental factors interact to enable or to limit the occurrence and persistence of large carnivores in human-dominated landscapes is an important issue for their effective conservation, especially under the current scenario of global change where most of their former habitat is being transformed by humans.
Location NW Iberian Peninsula.
Methods We combine data on the distribution of Iberian wolves (Canis lupus signatus) living in a human-dominated landscape in NW Spain and variation and partitioning methods to investigate the relative importance of three groups of predictors: food availability, humans and landscape attributes – each group expected to have unequal effects on wolf reproduction and survival – and their interactions on the occurrence of this species.
Results We found that the group of predictors related with landscape attributes (altitude, roughness and refuge) strongly determined wolf occurrence, followed by humans and food availability. Variance partitioning analysis revealed that the three most important components determining wolf occurrence were related with landscape attributes: (1) the joint effects of the three predictor groups, (2) the joint effect of humans and landscape attributes and (3) the pure effect of landscape attributes. Altitude had the main independent contribution to explain the probability of wolf occurrence.
Main conclusions In human-dominated landscapes, the occurrence of wolves is the result of a complex interaction among several environmental and human factors. Our results suggest that the characteristics of the landscape (spatial context) – factors associated with the security of wolves facilitating that animals go unnoticed by humans, wolf movements, dispersal events and short-time colonization – become more important in human-dominated landscapes and may have played a key role in the occurrence and persistence of this species throughout decades modulating the relationship between humans and wolf distribution.