02.10.2015 change 02.10.2015

Experts know how to better study and monitor wolves in Europe

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

There is a lot of data on wolves in Europe, but they is difficult to compile and compare. Methods of studying these animals need to be uniform, because it will facilitate the monitoring and protection - write the authors of the review article in "Mammal Review", on genetic research wolves.

With effective protection, European populations of large predatory mammals grow. "They often return to their former mainstays, from where people drove them dozens, and sometimes hundreds of years ago. A good example is wolf, which recently settled again in the lowland parts of central Europe. This species has returned to the forests of the western Poland and eastern Germany, reaching even the Netherlands and Denmark" - said Dr. Robert Mysłajek from the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw. He is one of more than 20 authors of the publication.

It is estimated that in Europe today there are more than 12 thousand wolves that make up ten populations. The world, to which they are returning, however, is different than the one in which their ancestors had lived. Wolves are returning to the forests surrounded by densely populated areas, with developed agriculture, heavily urbanized. They are threatened not only by poaching and negative attitude of people, but also heavy traffic on the roads and landscape fragmentation.

Experts agree that the species should be protected. This, however, requires monitoring. Meanwhile, wolves are highly mobile and it happens that their new territories are more than a thousand kilometres away from the places they come from. In practice, it appears that wolves living in the Baltic states and eastern Poland migrate north as far as Denmark, the Netherlands and western Germany.

"No one could have predicted that the population of wolves will expand so quickly" - said Dr. Mysłajek.

Modern methods of monitoring populations of large predators and research on their dispersion increasingly rely on molecular techniques. Scientists obtain the required DNA from samples of animal faeces, urine or hair.

The studies of wolves have been conducted so far mainly on the regional scale (for example, tests of the genetic structure of wolves in the country). Attempts to compare the results of studies on a larger scale, however, are extremely difficult and the results of research conducted in various centres in Europe often can not be compared - noted the authors of the publication after reviewing 80 publications of studies on wolves. In these projects, all from the last 25 years, molecular techniques were used.

"The main problem of incompatibility of results were different genetic markers used in individual laboratories" - explained Dr. Mysłajek.

"The DNA in the body is so extremely rich that for various studies you can select any fragment. But if you want to determine the genetic structure and ranges of animal migration across the continent, you have to use the same methods in different countries" - he emphasised.

Currently, such identification is often impossible because researchers from various centres use various DNA fragments. For the results to be consistent, they can agree that every laboratory will use a uniform method of DNA testing.

The first attempt to harmonize methods for wolf monitoring was made recently by scientists who study the Central European population of this predator - reminded Dr. Mysłajek. They established a consortium, which included institutions from the Netherlands (Alterra-Wageningen), Poland (Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw and the Association for Nature "Wolf"), Germany (Senckenberg Research Institute and LUPUS Wildlife Consultancy) and Denmark (Aarhus University).

The consortium members use one set of genetic markers and the same method. "Often it is technical details that ensure that the data can be easily compared" - said Dr. Mysłajek.

Comparing samples from different countries will allow to identify specific animals and determine the range of their migration. "It\'s a bit like paternity tests in humans. There we want to identify a specific person, and here it\'s about identifying specific wolves" - he added.

Other countries are invited to join the consortium. "Particularly the Czech Republic, because the wolves from Poland and Germany Czech lowlands. To confirm their origin, the Czechs must use exactly the same set of markers, which we and the Germans are using" - said Dr. Mysłajek.

According to the expert similar problem may also apply to other species that often and freely cross borders.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Anna Ślązak

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