Wolves (Canis lupus) in Croatia are estimated at nearly 200 individuals and form part of the Dinaric-Balkan population. As in most of Europe, they are currently expanding in size and distribution. However, the wolf still faces threats that could hamper its viability. In Croatia, these threats include the worsening of public attitudes and the construction of wind power plants in their distribution range. In order to meet the 2020 European targets for renewable energy production, the Republic of Croatia is planning to build 33 wind farms, with a total installed capacity of 1,555 MW. However, in order to meet such targets, only 747.25 MW are necessary.
In this study a suitability model for wolf breeding habitat was carried out using Maxent based on 6 environmental variables and 31 homesite locations collected between 1997 and 2015. The prediction of habitat suitability was then used to determine the potential impact of proposed wind farms on wolves. Lastly, a wind farm prioritisation process was carried out using the software Marxan. This allowed selecting the wind farms that contributed to the meeting of the energy targets at the minimum ecological impact on wolf breeding habitat.
The model showed good performance (AUC=0.805) and its prediction was consistent with the current knowledge and distribution of wolves in Croatia. The main predictors for suitability were distance to settlements, distance to farmland, distance to roads and distance to forest edge. Moreover, Marxan allowed the selection of highly cost-efficient wind farms. In fact, in the best scenario, selected wind farms were 44.5% of the total proposed wind farms and held only 23.3% of the total initial cost. In conclusion, this study provides valuable information and useful tools for the conservation of wolves in Croatia.
In particular, the habitat suitability map can be used for the implementation of the wolf management plan, for the prevention of human-wildlife conflicts and for future conservation planning. Moreover, the result of the prioritisation will be used to inform the strategic planning of wind farms in Croatia. Lastly, the framework adopted in this study can be expanded to multiple infrastructure and multiple large carnivores’ species such as the Eurasian brown bear and the Eurasian lynx.