Land use change and human abandonment of European rural areas ease carnivore populations natural recolonization

Most European populations of grey wolves, Eurasian lynx and brown bears have increased in number and extension during the last decades. Experts have routinely proposed as common causes of this recovery the agricultural abandonment and forest encroachment, exodus of human populations from rural to urban areas, and decrease in direct persecution. Up until now, the relative importance of these factors in shaping the expansion of large carnivore distributions at the European scale remained unclear.

An international team of 24 European experts, led by Marta Cimatti from the University of Rome La Sapienza and with the participation of Nuria Selva, Tomasz Zwijacz-Kozica and Carlos Bautista from our team, has tackled this question. The team investigated if changes in land cover, human population density and protection status were responsible for the expansion of lynx, bears or wolves in Europe during the last 24 years.

Researchers published their results in the Diversity and Distributions journal and they found that the probability of presence for the three species increased in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, North-West Iberian Peninsula and Northern Scandinavia, but showed mixed trends in Western and the rest of Southern Europe. Recent land cover and human population changes in Europe are the most influential factors that modify the potential distribution of large carnivores in many regions (including the Carpathian range). This finding suggests that the expansion of carnivores will continue across large parts of Europe calling for increased efforts toward the coexistence of humans and carnivores.

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