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New research has been conducted by the Institute of Mammal Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża, to determine whether the structure of Polish forests favours the Eurasian lynx, known as the lynx or the European wildcat.
According to the researchers, despite being under protection, lynxes are not colonizing all forests in the country. The study suggests that most forests do not meet the key requirements, such as the presence of undergrowth and terrain features, which provide these predators with the opportunity to hunt.
The researchers wanted to find out if, besides the fragmentation of the environment, there are other factors that may hinder lynxes from settling permanently in Polish forests. Previous research in the Białowieża Forest has shown that lynxes have very specific environmental requirements. As they hunt from an ambush, they need to have protective elements in their environment that allow them to approach their prey unnoticed and effectively obtain food.
Further research, which was published in the journal Animal Conservation, showed that among the available habitats in Poland, lynxes living in lowland areas preferred forests with a relatively high degree of undergrowth coverage, while those in mountainous regions preferred areas with the most varied terrain. Therefore, these landscape elements may be indicators of the availability of shelter in the environment necessary for these cats.
The researchers estimated to what extent Polish forests meet these conditions and, as a result, how many of them are suitable for these large, demanding cats to live in. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, they conducted an analysis of the habitat suitability model for this predator across the entire country, based on data on lynx distribution in Poland and various environmental data. The research was conducted on a macro-scale, taking into account general quantitative data on the spatial distribution of natural environments, such as forest areas or wetlands, as well as areas developed by humans, such as agricultural areas, built-up areas, and roads. The next step was to conduct micro-scale research, which involved analyzing the occurrence of elements in the environment that could serve as shelter for hunting lynxes. To do this, data on the terrain shape and information from the State Forests Information System were used.
The results of the research showed that only about 30% of Polish forests are suitable for lynxes to live in, and that fragmentation of the environment is not the only obstacle to the lynx population’s expansion in the country. The research suggests that a lack of natural continuity in the environment makes it difficult for these forest cats to move freely over long distances. However, wolves, another large predator under protection, have significantly expanded their territorial range despite these limitations. The study highlights the importance of understanding the complex requirements of wildlife in their environment to protect them better and their habitats.
The lynx is an endangered species in Poland
In fact, Poland is one of the few European countries where the lynx still survives in the wild. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is classified as a “Least Concern” species globally, but in Poland, it is classified as “Endangered”. The population of lynx in Poland is estimated to be around 250-300 individuals, and conservation efforts are in place to protect and increase their numbers.
Both Poland and Sweden have taken measures to protect the Eurasian lynx, and both countries have seen increases in lynx populations in recent years. However, the specific conservation challenges and strategies may differ between the two countries. Ultimately, the success of conservation efforts depends on a variety of factors, including government policies, public support, and the cooperation of various stakeholders.