Management and Conservation Note
Long-Distance Dispersal of a Rescued Wolf From the
Northern Apennines to the Western Alps
Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell’Uomo, Sapienza Universita
di Roma, Roma, 00185, Italy
WILLY REGGIONI, Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, Cervarezza Terme, Reggio Emilia, 42032, Italy
LUIGI MAIORANO, Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell’Uomo, Sapienza Universita
di Roma, Roma, 00185, Italy
LUIGI BOITANI, Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell’Uomo, Sapienza Universita
di Roma, Roma, 00185, Italy
ABSTRACT By using Global Positioning System technology, we documented the long-distance dispersal of a wolf (Canis lupus) from the
northern Apennines in Italy to the western Alps in France. This is the first report of long-distance dispersal of wolves in the human-dominated
landscapes of southern Europe, providing conclusive evidence that the expanding wolf population in the Alps originates from the Apennine
source population through natural recolonization. By crossing 4 major 4-lane highways, agricultural areas, and several regional and provincial
jurisdictions, the dispersal trajectory of wolf M15 revealed a single, narrow linkage connecting the Apennine and the Alpine wolf populations.
This connectivity should be ensured to allow a moderate gene flow between the 2 populations and counteract potential bottleneck effects and
reduced genetic variability of the Alpine wolf population. The case we report provides an example of how hard data can be effective in
mitigating public controversies originating from the natural expansion and recolonization processes of large carnivore populations. In addition,
by highlighting the connectivity between these 2 transboundary wolf populations, we suggest that documenting long-distance dispersal is
particularly critical to support population-based, transboundary management programs. (JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
KEY WORDS Canis lupus, connectivity, dispersal, Global Positioning System (GPS), Italy, long-range movements,
transboundary wolf management, wolf.
Dispersal strongly affects population dynamics, distribution,
gene flow, spatial and social organization, as well as
colonization and rescue effects (Howard 1960, Wolff
1977), and wolves (Canis lupus) are good candidates for
the study of dispersal (Fuller et al. 2003). Accordingly,
different aspects of wolf dispersal have been reported for
both North America (Gese and Mech 1991, Boyd and
Pletscher 1999, Fuller et al. 2003, Mech and Boitani 2003)
and northern Europe (Wabakken et al. 2001, 2006; Kojola
et al. 2006), but very limited information is available for
south-central Europe (Blanco and Corte
s 2007), where
higher human density and anthropogenic features may affect
wolf dispersal to a much greater extent. In addition, because
logistic and technical constraints did not allow, until
recently, detailed studies of long-distance dispersal by
wolves (Merrill and Mech 2000, Blanco et al. 2005), it is
difficult to fully understand wolf dispersal mechanics and to
predict landscape links (Fuller et al. 2003).
The advent of Global Positioning System (GPS) technol-
ogy made it possible to gain new insights into wolf dispersal
and connectivity among disjoint wolf populations (Kojola et
al. 2006, Wabakken et al. 2006). Analyses of detailed GPS-
revealed dispersal paths may provide information on how an
animal perceives and moves about through the landscape
(With 1994, Nams 2005). In particular, long-distance
dispersal trajectories might reveal which portions of the
landscape still provide connectivity between noncontiguous
populations (Graves et al. 2007).
This knowledge is particularly useful in human-dominated
landscapes, where spatially explicit management interven-
tions might enhance preservation and functionality of
existing links for the long-term viability of metapopulations
(Beier et al. 2006). For noncontiguous wolf populations
across international jurisdictions, documenting long-dis-
tance dispersal is also particularly critical, because it provides
evidence of their genetic and demographic connectivity,
therefore supporting the need for population-based, inter-
state management programs (Boitani 2003, Linnell et al.
In southern Europe, long-distance dispersal by wolves has
recently been inferred using noninvasive genetic data of the
naturally expanding wolf population across the Italian,
French, and Swiss Alps (Lucchini et al. 2002, Valie
re et al.
2003, Fabbri et al. 2007). Although these studies clearly
indicated that wolves in the Alps originated genetically from
the Apennine source population, they did not reveal
dispersal trajectories or sufficient evidence to resolve the
animated debate on the origin of the recolonizing wolves in
France (Spagnou 2003a). Whereas wolf opponents did not
rule out illegal release of captive wolves (Lucchini et al.
2002), some local experts were skeptical that wolves from
the Apennines could successfully travel through the narrow
and altered Ligurian Apennines to reach the Alps (Zunino
2003, quoted in Spagnou 2003b, in litteris).
By using GPS telemetry, we hereby document the first
report of long-distance wolf dispersal from the northern
Apennines in Italy to the western Alps in France. Although
based on a single event, this case provides evidence that the
transboundary wolf population in the western Alps could
have originated naturally from long-distance dispersers from
the Apennine source population. The wolf dispersal
trajectory we report directly demonstrates that a single,
1300 The Journal of Wildlife Management N 73(8)
narrow link still connects the 2 wolf populations across a
highly heterogeneous and human-dominated landscape.
We defined the study area by the outermost locations of the
dispersing wolf (Fig. 1), including the northern Apennines,
in Italy, and part of the southwestern Alps across the border
between Italy and France. Both areas were characterized by
rugged, mountainous terrain with altitudes up to 1,978 m in
the Apennines and 3,084 m in the Alps. Deciduous (mostly
beech, Fagus sylvatica) forests covered about 51% of the
Apennines, whereas the Alps featured 66% forest cover,
mostly composed by conifers (Abies alba, Larix decidua) and,
at lower elevations, deciduous trees (F. sylvatica, Acer
platanoides, Betula pubescens). Wild boar (Sus scrofa), roe
deer (Capreolus capreolus), and red deer (Cervus elaphus) were
locally abundant and heavily used by wolves, both in the
northern Apennines (Meriggi et al. 1996) and in the Alps
(Marucco 2003, Gazzola et al. 2005). Livestock, mostly free-
ranging cattle, was available to wolves all year, especially in the
northern Apennines. Wolf distribution in the Alpine portion
of the study area was continuous and expanding (Lucchini et
al. 2002, Marucco 2003, Valie
re et al. 2003) but it was
separated from the source Apennine population by a gap of
more than 200 km (Fabbri et al. 2007).
Following expansion of the wolf population in the central
Apennines during the past 30 years (Boitani and Ciucci
1993), the wolf range in the northern Apennines was
continuous up to about 44u409N latitude (Ciucci et al. 2003)
at the time of the study. However, it was believed to be more
discontinuous along the narrow, northwesternmost portion
of the Apennine chain (Meriggi et al. 2002). Snow cover
usually extended from November and December to April in
the Alps and from December and January through March in
the northern Apennines. Human density averaged 52.8
(6346.5 SD) and 50.1 (6307 SD) people/km
Apennines and in the Alps, respectively, although its
dispersion varied considerably on a local scale. Mean
densities of permanent roads (highways, other paved roads,
and improved unsurfaced roads passable by 2-wheel drive
vehicles; Mladenoff et al. 1995) were 2.98 km/km
in the Apennines and in the Alps, respective-
ly. Agriculture and other anthropogenic cover types
accounted for slightly more than 50% in the Apennines,
but less than 10% in the Alpine range (Falcucci et al. 2007).
The Italian portion of the study area included 5 regional and
several more provincial administrative units, each with their
own land use and wildlife management jurisdiction, and
several protected areas (1,699 km
; 14% of the study area;
Figure 1. Global Positioning System (GPS)-estimated long-distance dispersal path of wolf pup M15, from the northern Apennines (Italy) to the western
Alps across the Italian–French border (11 Mar 2004–22 Jan 2005). Only selected towns (i.e., .10,000 inhabitants) and the main protected areas close to the
dispersal trajectory are shown. Open circles display sharp turning angles during directional dispersal, whereas the question mark corresponds to 4 days of
missing data (22–25 Sep 2004).
Ciucci et al. N Wolf Dispersal From Italy to France 1301
On 11 March 2004, we released in the northern Apennines
a 28-kg male wolf pup M15 (10 months old, age estimated
by tooth eruption and wear; Gipson et al. 2000) rescued on
24 February 2004 from a vehicle accident in the outskirts of
the city of Parma (Fig. 1). Immediate examination upon
rescue revealed limited external and internal bleeding, and a
slight limp at the front left leg (G. M. Pisani, Province of
Parma, personal communication). To avoid risks of human
habituation, in less than 24 hours, we moved the wolf to a
small and isolated stone hut within a nearby protected area
(Cento Laghi Regional Park) in the northern Apennines, as
the wolf gave signs of quick recovery. We fed M15 road-kills
(roe deer) and assessed its condition by observation at a
distance every 1 to 2 days (M. Andreani, Cento Laghi
Regional Park, personal communication). After 15 days, as the
wolf was quickly recovering, we released it in a secure place
nearby, located in the interstice between the territories of 2
wolf packs (Ciucci et al. 2003). Upon release, we sedated
(medetomidine and ketamine, antagonized upon release with
atipamezole; Kreeger et al. 2002) and fitted wolf M15 with a
Televilt (Lindesberg, Sweden) GPS-Direct collar. Although
the natal territory of wolf M15 was unknown, its 12-
microsatellite genotype matched a known genotype (E. Randi,
National Institute of Wildlife, personal communication),
whose corresponding fecal sample was previously (6 Dec
2003) collected at about 80 km southeast along the northern
Apennine chain (D. Pagliai, Alto Appennino Modenese
Regional Park, personal communication; Fig. 1). It is thus
plausible that wolf M15 was born from one of the packs in
that portion of the Apennines (Ciucci et al. 2003).
We retrieved data, including location, date, time, and
estimates of position quality (2D, 3D, and 3D+), from the
collar through the Global System for Mobile Communica-
tions (GSM). We allowed 180 seconds for each fix attempt,
and programmed the collar to acquire locations at 4-hour
(until 4 May 2004) and 12-hour (after 5 May 2004)
intervals. Field crews investigated clusters of GPS locations
during the postrelease period, at highway crossings, and
after settlement. We permanently lost GSM contact with
the collar by 22 January 2005, but only by 18 February 2005
did the field crew localize the carcass of wolf M15 by
homing in on the very high frequency signal. When found,
the wolf had probably died
10 days before and had been
entirely consumed by scavengers, making it impossible to
determine the cause of death.
We projected wolf M15 locations in ArcGis 9.2, assuming
inaccuracy of GPS position was negligible at the scale of our
analysis (expected range: ,30 m to , 99 m 95% of the time
for 3D and 2D positions, respectively; Dussault et al. 2001,
D’Eon et al. 2002). We analyzed the overall dispersal
trajectory using locations recorded at 12-hour sampling
intervals (n 5 484; 0730 hr and 1930 hr), including those
subsampled, at the same time intervals, from the 4-hour
sampling dataset (n 5 94).
We defined natal dispersal as the one-way movement from
the release (or presumed birth) site to an independent home
range, where wolf M15 would have presumably reproduced
if it had survived (Gese and Mech 1991, Boyd and Pletscher
1999, Wabbaken et al. 2006, Blanco and Corte
s 2007). We
quantified overall net displacement as the largest Euclidean
distance covered from the release site to the furthest location
along the dispersal trajectory. Differently, we quantified net
dispersal distance as the largest Euclidean distance from the
release site to the harmonic mean of the final home range
(Kenward et al. 2002). We approximated minimum
distances traveled as the sum of the Euclidean distances
traveled between successive 12-hour locations. Failed GPS
attempts (n 5 128) mostly comprised single locations (n 5
110), and only 14% included 2 successive locations. In case
one location was missing, we estimated it by linear
interpolation between successive locations (Ciucci et al.
1997, Stoner et al. 2007) to ensure a constant sampling
interval for the entire movement trajectory for movement
path analyses (see below).
To explore movement patterns during dispersal, we visually
inspected discontinuities in the cumulative net displacement
curve, because they reflected differences in the rate and extent
of geographical displacement (Fig. 2). By sequentially
demarcating patterns indicating use of the same general area
(i.e., little or no increase in net displacement) from those
reflecting a consistent travel from the release site (i.e., no
return to previously visited areas), we thus identified 11
dispersal phases, each featuring 1 of 4 different movement
patterns (Fig. 2): 1) local movements, with more or less
localized spatial behavior and recurrent use of the same
general area; 2) directional movements, with consistent
traveling in a predominant direction; 3) directional shifting,
an intermediate pattern between the previous 2, when wolf
M15 gradually shifted a restricted area of activity in one
direction; and 4) home range–like movements, similar to local
movements but more localized, reduced in extent, and for an
extended period of time. We considered the home range–like
movements as an indication of settlement (Gese and Mech
1991, Mech and Boitani 2003). To better characterize the
multistage pattern of dispersal (sensu Wabbakken et al. 2006),
we used linear, fractal, and circular metrics to describe
We computed fractals by the Fractal Mean method (Nams
1996) using FRACTAL (version 4.1, http://nsac.ca/envsci/
staff/vnams/Fractal.htm, accessed 15 Jul 2009). We used
basic circular statistics (Zar 1999) to describe and test
directionality of travel, both within each dispersal phase
(first-order samples) and within movement patterns (i.e.,
directional vs. local movement phases; second-order sam-
ples). In particular, we measured angular dispersion of
traveling bearings by the mean vector r, a measure of angular
concentration that can vary from 0 (high angular dispersion
and no mean bearing) to 1 (all bearings have the same
direction), and used the Rayleigh’s z to test the null
hypothesis of no angular concentration. We used Moore’s
modification of the Rayleigh test (Zar 1999) to test the
hypothesis of no angular concentration in second-order
samples. In statistically comparing fractal and circular
metrics among dispersal phases, we assumed they were
1302 The Journal of Wildlife Management N 73(8)
independent, because wolf movements responded to differ-
ent environmental and social stimuli across the different
areas encountered during dispersal; however, we caution
against interpreting significance levels because all move-
ments pertain to a single wolf.
In 318 days since release (11 Mar 2004–22 Jan 2005), wolf
M15’s collar acquired 653 locations, with an acquisition rate
of 76.1%. Acquisition rate did not differ between the 4-hour
and the 12-hour GPS-schedules (G
5 1.02, P 5 0.31),
nor between the broadleaf (Jun–Oct) and the broadleaf-less
(Nov–May) seasons (G
5 2.19, P 5 0.14). At the 12-
hour sampling, acquisition rate of GPS locations was higher
in the evening (83.5%, at 1930 hr) than in the morning
(72.2%, at 0700 hr; G
5 9.34, P 5 0.002). Most
locations (66.6%) were of high accuracy (3D, 3D+), and
their proportion was not affected by sampling interval
5 0.11, P 5 0.74) or vegetative season (G
0.52, P 5 0.47). Since deployment, both measures of GPS
performance did not vary with increasing battery drainage
on a monthly basis (acquisition rate: F
5 0.08, P 5 0.78;
proportion of 3D locations: F
5 0.05, P 5 0.82).
Following release, wolf M15 spent about 2 months
roaming north, east, and southeast of the release site in an
area of about 514 km
, where we knew at least 3 other packs
existed (Fig. 1). During this period, at least 8 ground
investigations on clusters of
2 locations, partly aided by
snow, provided evidence that wolf M15 was traveling alone
and was feeding on roe deer, wild boar, and occasionally on
livestock carcasses (M. Andreani, personal communication).
Wolf M15 then abandoned this area and began traveling at
a faster pace in a west–northwesterly direction along the
Apennines, eventually reaching the French Alps by 2
October 2004, about 7 months after release. Wolf M15
then floated for about one month across the Italian–French
border, using an area of about 694 km
in the same general
locality where in 1993 the first noninvasive genetic sample
of a recolonizing wolf was collected (Valie
re et al. 2003). We
knew a minimum of 3 wolf packs resided in that area at the
time wolf M15 arrived (Wolf Alpine Group 2004). By 8
months after release, wolf M15 eventually began to restrict
its movements and settled on the Italian side of the Alps for
2.5 months, carving out a home range (95% fixed kernel) of
in an area between 2 resident wolf packs. Since
December 2004, a field crew investigated wolf M15’s tracks
in the snow (16 sessions, 44 km), and revealed that in 88%
of these sessions, wolf M15 was associated with another
wolf (F. Marucco, Piemonte Large Carnivores Project,
personal communication). Noninvasive genotyping later
confirmed that by 16 January 2005 wolf M15 had
permanently paired with wolf F70, a yearling female from
one of the resident packs (M. Schwartz, Rocky Mountain
Research Station, personal communication). The same
winter, wolf F70 was tracked alone from 9 February onward
(F. Marucco, personal communication), probably following
the death of wolf M15.
The furthest location wolf M15 reached during dispersal
was on the French side of the western Alps, for a maximum
net displacement of 217.3 km. Conversely, net dispersal
distance was 186.8 km, considering the release site, or
239.7 km with respect to the putative natal range (Fig. 1).
The net dispersal distance from the release site corresponded
to a minimum distance traveled of 958 km, which, corrected
by a factor of 1.3 (Musiani et al. 1998, Wabakken et al.
2006), yields an estimate of 1,245.3 km actually travelled.
Geographical displacement during dispersal was not
constant over time, and discontinuities in cumulative net
displacement indicated 11 sequential dispersal phases
(Fig. 2). Excluding directional shifting for which data were
incomplete, directional movements (n 5 4 phases) contrib-
uted the most to net (x
5 44.9, SD 5 37.8 km/phase) and
5 8.6, SD 5 0.6 km/day) distance travelled,
whereas local movements (n 5 5, excluding home range–
like movements), contributed less (x
5 20.1, SD 5
10.4 km/phase, and x
5 3.4, SD 5 1.2 km/day for net
and daily displacement, respectively). Accordingly, phases
featuring local movements (n 5 5) were on average more
tortuous than directional movements (n 5 4; Fractal D: x
1.52, SD 5 0.21, and x
5 1.20, SD 5 0.06, respectively; t
522.96, P 5 0.021; Table 1). During localized phases
wolf M15 travelled minimum distances of 5.7–16.4 km/day,
indicating that it was not stationary but moved intensively in
the same general area, possibly searching for other wolves or
resources. Individually considered, directional phases had a
predominant traveling direction (0.20
localized phases did not reveal any particular directionality
1.16, P .
0.05). Accordingly, directional phases had little angular
dispersion (r 5 0.81) and an overall bearing of 266.1uN (SD
5 37.1uN; Moore test: R
5 1.10, P , 0.05), whereas, in
contrast, localized phases did not display a preferred
traveling bearing (Moore test: R
5 0.47, P . 0.50).
Wolf M15’s dispersal trajectory extended through the
main Apennine chain, with an overall mean bearing of
Figure 2. Minimum daily distance and cumulative net displacement
traveled by wolf M15 from the release site during its Global Positioning
System–revealed dispersal from the northern Apennines (Italy) to the
western Alps (France and Italy; 11 Mar 2004–22 Jan 2005). We identified
11 dispersal phases on the basis of discontinuities in the cumulative net
displacement curve, and they are shown by alternate black and gray sections
(cf. Table 1).
Ciucci et al. N Wolf Dispersal From Italy to France 1303
264.5uN, at altitudes ranging from 270 m to 2,664 m.
During directional dispersal 3 sharp turning angles (phases 2
and 6; x
5 124.2uN, SD 5 24.8uN, in absolute values) were
on average greater (Watson and William test: F
P , 0.001) than the overall mean of directional movements
5 44.8uN, SD 5 37.6uN, n 5 40), suggesting the wolf’s
attempt to redirect and maintain its traveling along the main
Apennine chain as it reached lower elevations or increasingly
developed areas (Fig. 1).
During dispersal, wolf M15 traveled across 2 national, 5
regional, and several provincial administrative units, and
went as close as 0.8–5 km to large towns such as Cuneo and
Genoa. The wolf navigated several potential barriers,
including 4 fenced 4-lane highways (traffic volumes in
Jul–Sep 2004 ranging 49,928–143,081 vehicles/day; AIS-
CAT 2004), several main railways, and many state,
provincial, and local paved roads. Wolf M15 crossed
highways with apparent ease (
12–24 hr) and, as from
field investigations, systematically used underpasses, which
are frequent along highways in these mountainous areas. As
an exception, wolf M15 clustered for 4 days at 700–1,100 m
east of highway A7 before crossing it. Although we cannot
exclude the presence of a carcass at the site, the juxtaposition
of the highway, an unfenced 2-lane state road, a railway, and
a river, all at the bottom of a steep valley flanked with
concrete banks .10 m high, might have presented wolf
M15 with a serious challenge, thereby delaying its
movements. At the edge of the northwestern Apennines,
while traveling in a southwesterly direction, wolf M15
turned northwestward before crossing highway A6, thus
reaching the westernmost portion of the Po River Valley at
altitudes as low as 300 m. Unfortunately, having lost GSM
data during this period (22–25 Sep 2004), we cannot assess
whether this change of direction might have resulted from a
failure in negotiating a more direct route to cross highway
A6 (Fig. 1). However, wolf M15 crossed highway A6
further north, utilizing the 900-m-wide, riparian vegetation-
rich drainage of the Pesio River running underneath the
highway. By following the same drainage for an additional
11 km, wolf M15 eventually reached the densely populated
outskirts of Cuneo, where it turned southward to finally reach
the Alps in less than 48 hours (Fig. 1). In this heavily
cultivated and developed area, wolf M15 traveled at a fast pace
during the night (15–16 km/night) and rested during the day,
using the thick and locally widespread corn plantations.
Being based on a rescued wolf, our study differs from other
telemetry-based wolf dispersal studies (Boyd and Pletscher
1999, Kojola et al. 2006, Wabakken et al. 2006, Blanco and
s 2007). We cannot therefore exclude that actual
dispersal distances were higher than those reported, or that
the prerelease events (vehicle accident, rescue, and recovery)
might have influenced to some extent wolf M15’s
subsequent dispersal behavior. Nevertheless, the observed
natural dispersal behavior supports the idea that limited
handling and no contact with humans during the brief
recovery were successful in avoiding conditioning or
Although our results are based on a single case, they
provide clear evidence that wolves can disperse through the
human-dominated landscapes of the northern Apennines.
Wolf M15’s dispersal trajectory directly demonstrates that a
functional linkage still exists between the Apennine and the
Alpine wolf populations. This was previously inferred from
genetic studies, based on which unidirectional and male-
biased dispersal from the Apennine population could have
Table 1. Sequential phases of wolf M15 dispersal from the northern Apennines (Italy) to the western Alps (France) based on 484 Global Positioning System
(GPS) locations acquired at 12-hour intervals (Mar 2004–Jan 2005).
Min. distance traveled (km)
Mean SD Min. Max.
Local 1 11 Mar–7 May 98 25.6 0.4 173.2 3.0 2.8 0.1 11.8 1.45 0.05 59.7
Directional 2 8–14 May 7 39.9 5.7 54.8 7.8 2.9 5.6 13.5 1.23 0.76 262.7*
Local 3 15 May–13 Jun 55 13.9 0.5 92.2 3.1 2.6 0.1 9.9 1.81 0.14 295.8
Directional 4 14–17 Jun 7 24.6 6.2 28.5 7.1 3.7 3.2 10.7 1.16 0.81 331.0**
Local 5 18–27 Jun 12 8.0 0.8 29.8 3.0 2.4 0.6 5.7 1.34 0.01 111.0
Directional 6 28 Jun–4 Jul 10 15.5 2.2 42.0 6.0 5.0 0.6 15.2 1.27 0.20 251.9
shifting 7 5–26 Jul
23 12.8 0.6 20.1 0.9 0.7 0.1 2.1 1.24 0.32 268.2
Local 8 27 Jul–12 Sep 74 18.4 0.4 127.0 2.6 2.1 0.1 9.5 1.34 0.06 250.4
Directional 9 12–28 Sep
16 99.6 5.9 117.4 6.9 4.7 0.8 19.5 1.13 0.65 242.4***
Local 10 28 Sep–11 Nov 71 34.7 0.8 256.5 5.7 4.2 0.1 16.4 1.64 0.01 57.3
like 11 12 Nov–22 Jan 114 9.5 0.1 285.0 4.0 3.1 0.5 13.0 1.91 0.07 110.8
Greatest net displacement from the first location of current phase.
Cumulative Euclidean distances summed across successive locations.
By the Fractal Mean method (Nams 1996) using FRACTAL. Min. and max. scales were constrained by the average step size and one-third of total path
length, respectively (With 1994), and 10 divider lengths were used to measure the length of each movement path.
Marked values from angular distributions different from uniform expected (Rayleigh test; * P , 0.01; ** P , 0.001; *** P , 0.001).
Data from 8–14 Jul were lost due to downloading failure.
Data from 22–25 Sep were lost due to downloading failure.
1304 The Journal of Wildlife Management N 73(8)
occurred repeatedly at a rate of 1.25–2.5 wolves/generation
(Fabbri et al. 2007).
Although wolves may disperse as much as 390–1,092 km
(Boyd and Pletscher 1999, Wabakken et al. 2006), wolf
M15 traveled a dispersal distance higher than the average
reported for wolves in the more pristine landscapes of North
America (77–113 km; Gese and Mech 1991, Boyd and
Pletscher 1999, Mech and Boitani 2003) and northern
Europe (99 km; Kojola et al. 2006). This dispersal distance
is the highest so far documented by means of telemetry in
the human-dominated landscapes of southern Europe
(Spain: Blanco and Corte
s 2007; Italy: P. Ciucci, Sapienza
University of Rome, unpublished data).
Dispersing wolves seem to maximize breeding opportunities
rather than resource acquisition (Boyd et al. 1995, Wydeven et
al. 1995, Mech and Boitani 2003). Therefore, they may travel
long distances due to the low probability of finding a mate
(Boyd and Pletscher 1999, Wabakken et al. 2006). However,
not only conspecific attraction (Boyd and Pletscher 1999,
Blanco and Corte
s 2007), but also the rough and irregular
topography of the Apennines chain north of the release site
may have influenced both distance and direction of wolf
M15’s dispersal. Similarly to dispersing wolves in Montana,
USA, which used a narrow swath along the Rocky Mountain
chain where other wolves were present (Boyd et al. 1995), wolf
M15’s movements appeared to be funneled along the narrow
stretch of the northern Apennines, confirming a previously
postulated linkage effect of this tract of the Apennines
between the Apennine and the Alpine wolf populations
(Mech and Boitani 2003, Fabbri et al. 2007).
Wolf M15’s dispersal confirms the ability of wolves to
cross areas previously believed to act as barriers, such as
open, agricultural, and developed areas, or other linear
infrastructures (Mech et al. 1995, Merrill and Mech 2000,
Fuller et al. 2003, Valie
re et al. 2003, Blanco et al. 2005).
Elsewhere, however, highways with much lower traffic
volumes (4,000 vehicles/day) act as barriers to wolf
movements through direct mortality (Paquet 1993) and
reduced movement rates (Alexander et al. 2005). Although
we cannot infer population level responses from a single
event, we believe that in the Apennines highway crossing
may be facilitated by naturally occurring mitigation provided
by the many under- or overpasses largely negotiable by
wolves while traveling. Nevertheless, as exemplified by wolf
M15’s crossing of highway A7, the local juxtaposition of
several linear structures may represent a more difficult
obstacle, especially for dispersing wolves without prior
spatial knowledge of the area (see also Blanco et al. 2005).
Wolf M15’s dispersal conclusively demonstrates that wolves
from the Apennines can travel across the altered landscape of
the Ligurian Apennine chain to reach the Alps, supporting
previously inferred conclusions from genetic studies on the
natural recolonization of the Alps by long-distance–dispers-
ing wolves from the Apennines (Lucchini et al. 2002, Valie
et al. 2003, Fabbri et al. 2007). Because we made wolf M15’s
case public after its death, it was reported by most national
and local news media in France, which presented this case as
proof that wolves have returned to the Alps naturally (B.
Lequette, Mercantour National Park, personal communica-
tion). As a consequence, shepherds and farmers’ organizations
also ceased to openly support the artificial reintroduction
hypothesis. Hard data from a single wolf outweighed all
logical and biological inferences offered by scientists on the
natural expansion of the wolf range throughout northern Italy
and the Alps (Lucchini et al. 2002, Valie
re et al. 2003).
Acceptance of the natural recolonization process implied that
the wolves in the Alps are fully protected under the provision
of the Habitat European Directive and should be allowed to
establish a viable population. The ultimate evidence of the
habitat and population continuity across the Italian–French
boundary has been instrumental in prompting formal
meetings of the Italian, French, and Swiss authorities to
discuss a road map toward a common management plan of
the Alpine wolf population.
In this perspective, the functional connectivity between
the Apennine (source) and Alpine (colony) wolf populations
should be maintained, at least at the estimated current rate
(Fabbri et al. 2007) deemed sufficient to counteract serious
bottleneck effects for the Alpine wolf population. Our
results contributed to highlighting the landscape linkage
across the Ligurian Apennines for its future preservation
and mitigation of potential barriers.
M. Andreani, L. Grottoli, F. Marucco, L. Molinari, and L.
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the Province of Parma, and the Alpi Marittime National
Park provided logistic and administrative support for the
recovery, release, and monitoring of wolf M15. Funds were
provided by the Life-Natura Project LIFE00 NAT/IT/
007214 and the Department of Human and Animal Biology
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1306 The Journal of Wildlife Management N 73(8)