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    Rule-based habitat suitability modelling for the reintroduction of the grey wolf (Canis lupus) in Scotland

    Gwynn, Vashti and Symeonakis, Elias ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1724-2869 (2022) Rule-based habitat suitability modelling for the reintroduction of the grey wolf (Canis lupus) in Scotland. PLoS One, 17 (10). e0265293. ISSN 1932-6203

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    Abstract

    Though native to Scotland, the grey wolf (Canis lupus) was extirpated c.250 years ago as part of a global eradication drive. The global population has recently expanded, now occupying 67% of its former range. Evidence is growing that apex predators provide a range of ecological benefits, most stemming from the reduction of overgrazing by deer-something from which Scotland suffers. In this study, we build a rule-based habitat suitability model for wolves on the Scottish mainland. From existing literature, we identify the most important variables as land cover, prey density, road density and human density, and establish thresholds of suitability for each. Fuzzy membership functions are used to assign suitability values to each variable, followed by fuzzy overlay to combine all four: a novel approach to habitat suitability modelling for terrestrial mammals. Model sensitivity is tested for land cover and prey density, as these variables constitute a knowledge gap and an incomplete dataset, respectively. The Highlands and Grampian mountains emerge strongly and consistently as the most suitable areas, largely due to high negative covariance between prey density and road/human density. Sensitivity testing reveals the models are fairly robust to changes in prey density, but less robust to changes in the scoring of land cover, with the latter altering the distribution of land mainly through the 70-100% suitability range. However, in statistical significance tests, only the least and most generous versions of the model emerge as giving significantly different results. Depending on the version of the model, a contiguous area of between 10,139km2 and 18,857km2 is shown to be 80 to 100% suitable. This could be sufficient to support between 50 and 94 packs of four wolves, if the average pack range size is taken to be 200km2. We conclude that in terms of habitat availability, reintroduction should be feasible.

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