Changing patterns of conflict between humans, carnivores and crop-raiding prey as large carnivores recolonize human-dominated landscapes

Abstract

Large carnivores are making remarkable comebacks in Europe, but how this affects human-wildlife conflict remains unclear. Rebounding carnivore populations lead to increasing livestock depredation, which in turn leads to greater economic losses for farmers. However, returning carnivores could also influence the behavior of wild ungulates, which are themselves responsible for major crop damage and associated economic losses. Here, we exploit the natural experiment of a rebounding wolf population in the Italian Apennines to study how this affected both types of human-wildlife conflic. We used large datasets of wolf occurrences (n = 351), livestock depredation events (n = 165), and crop damage events by wild boar (n = 3442) to independently model the determinants of livestock depredation and crop damage distribution in relation to wolf habitat suitability over a ten-year period of increasing wolf numbers. These analyses yielded two major insights. First, livestock depredations were mainly related to insufficient prevention measures (e.g. lacking fencing) rather than landscape context, providing a clear pathway to conflict mitigation. Second, crop damage decreased in areas of higher wolf habitat suitability and became more likely in areas of lower wolf habitat suitability, closer to settlements. This suggests increasing predation pressure forces wild boars to avoid the most suitable wolf habitat, leading to a redistribution of crop damage in the landscape. More generally, our study highlights complex human-wildlife interactions as large carnivores recover in human-dominated landscapes, suggesting that multiple, co-occurring conflicts need to be assessed jointly and adaptively in order to foster coexistence between humans and wildlife.

Publication
Biological Conservation, 269
Arash Ghoddousi
Arash Ghoddousi
Senior Researcher
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab