Italian Wolf Prefers Wild Boar Say Researchers
December 21, 2012

Italian Wolf Prefers Wild Boar, Valuable Insight For Farmers And Conservationists

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

New research from a group of British scientists has provided a more detailed look into the selective diet of wolves living in northwestern Italy.

Wolves are an apex predator across Europe and the new insights could translate into more informed conservation strategies for policymakers as well as better protective measures for the region´s livestock industry, which can be affected by wolf predation.

According to the researchers´ report in the journal PLOS ONE, the wolves heavily preferred wild boar in their diet, which made up about two thirds of their total prey biomass. Roe deer accounted for the final third of the wolves´ diet.

The study´s findings were based on the remains of prey taken from almost 2,000 samples of wolf dung found near Tuscany over a period of nine years. The researchers also found that an increase in roe deer predation only happened in years when the boar population was lower. By contrast, the relative abundance of roe deer had no impact on the rate at which they were hunted so long as the boar population was stable.

"Our research demonstrates a consistent selection for wild boar among wolves in the study area, which could affect other prey species such as roe deer,” said lead author Miranda Davis, from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University.

"Intriguingly, in other parts of Europe where red deer are also available, wolves appear to prefer this prey to wild boar, suggesting that they discriminate between different types of venison."

The study´s findings contrast observations in other areas of Europe where wolves avoid the large, aggressive swine. The scientists speculated that the comparatively smaller size of Mediterranean boar makes them less dangerous and a more attractive prey for wolves.

While, the temperate ecosystem around Tuscany supports roe deer and wild boar populations, the lands are also grazed by sheep, goats and other livestock. The fact that wild boar and roe deer made up over 95 percent of wolf diet should come as a relief to the area´s farmers.

Stephen Willis, a biology professor at Durham University, said his team´s study could pave the way for wolves to be reintroduced into the British Isles.

"Wolves were hunted to extinction in the UK, probably by the end of the 17th century,” he said. “Our findings from Italy suggest that if they were reintroduced into an area with a healthy ungulate population their impact on livestock could be minimal."

The researchers concluded that additional dietary studies should focus on understanding how the wolf population impacts the European ecosystem over a longer period of time. They said that successful conservation strategies could lead to a larger population of apex predators — or predators that have no natural predator of their own — and managing a healthy coexistence with the human population will be crucial to these strategies´ long term success.

"Wolves and brown bears are gradually returning to their former strongholds in Europe,” said study co-author Phil Stephens, from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University. “Understanding the needs of these species, as well as their potential impacts, is going to be fundamental to managing that welcome return,” he added.