A human-neutral large carnivore? No patterns in the body mass of gray wolves across a gradient of anthropization

PLoS One. 2023 Jun 1;18(6):e0282232. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282232. eCollection 2023.


The gray wolf (Canis lupus) expanded its distribution in Europe over the last few decades. To better understand the extent to which wolves could re-occupy their historical range, it is important to test if anthropization can affect their fitness-related traits. After having accounted for ecologically relevant confounders, we assessed how anthropization influenced i) the growth of wolves during their first year of age (n = 53), ii) sexual dimorphism between male and female adult wolves (n = 121), in a sample of individuals that had been found dead in Italy between 1999 and 2021. Wolves in anthropized areas have a smaller overall variation in their body mass, during their first year of age. Because they already have slightly higher body weight at 3-5 months, possibly due to the availability of human-derived food sources. The difference in the body weight of adult females and males slightly increases with anthropization. However, this happens because of an increase in the body mass of males only, possibly due to sex-specific differences in dispersal and/or to "dispersal phenotypes". Anthropization in Italy does not seem to have any clear, nor large, effect on the body mass of wolves. As body mass is in turn linked to important processes, like survival and reproduction, our findings indicates that wolves could potentially re-occupy most of their historical range in Europe, as anthropized landscapes do not seem to constrain such of an important life-history trait. Wolf management could therefore be needed across vast spatial scales and in anthropized areas prone to social conflicts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Wolves*

Grants and funding

Carmela Musto and Marco Apollonio were partially supported by a research grant funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (Project number: WWTF ESR20-009). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. There was no additional external funding received for this study.