Life and death in wolverines

Abstract: Developing trustworthy conservation planning for endangered species requires a deep understanding of the variations of their populations in both space and time. I used individual-based long-term location and demographic data on wolverines (Gulo gulo) in Northern Sweden, and data on reproductions from the national monitoring systems of Norway and Sweden, to analyze how wolverine demography in Scandinavia is affected by variation in habitat and management policies. Wolverines showed agerelated patterns of reproduction and reproductive costs, which were influenced by seasonal resources. The top predator Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) increase scavenging opportunities on reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) carrion, and wolverines and lynx selected for the same habitats when sharing prey base and sources of adult mortality. Illegal killing was a main source of adult mortality in brown bears (Ursus arctos), lynx and wolverines in northern Sweden, and the risk of being illegally killed was in general higher in national parks and on reindeer calving grounds, and lower in forest and steep terrain. At population level, the reproductive range of wolverines was set by latitude and elevation; presence of reindeer and lynx, rugged terrain and higher primary production had a positive effect; whereas human dominated habitats negatively influenced the frequency of reproductions. Different management policies influenced the frequency of wolverine reproductions; in Sweden this was 2 times higher than in Norway. Finally, I show that in Sweden, adult female wolverines were illegally killed at lower rates than males. Thus, the Swedish carnivore conservation payment system, which pays for wolverine reproductions, protects the demographic segment that is most important for population growth. Carnivores impose negative impact on rural economies and herding cultures in Scandinavia, and there will be need for continued monitoring combined with economic incentives to ensure carnivore-human coexistence. The approach of linking life histories to habitat has the potential for in-depth studies of mechanisms shaping spatial and temporal variation in populations, and should be implemented in future adaptive management for species persistence.

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