The Apennine brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) is an endangered subspecies endemic to Italy, where a small population, estimated at 40–50 bears, inhabits a human-dominated landscape. Although little is known of the ecology of this population, habitat loss and fragmentation often has been considered one of the main threats for small and endangered populations. To assess habitat availability at the landscape scale, we used a distribution model to compare historical, present, and future land-cover suitability for the Apennine brown bear population in central Italy. The 4 models are based on 3 existing land-cover maps (1960, 1990, and 2000) and 1 simulated map for 2020, obtained from a cellular-automata Markov-chain land-transition model. We also compared changes in human population density as a surrogate for human pressures on bear habitat, and we measured the contribution of protected areas to the bear's conservation. Our results show that, at the landscape level and assuming that current human population trends continue in the future, land-cover suitability does not seem to be an issue or priority. The current negative trend of this population, despite opposite trends in land-cover suitability, suggests that conservation efforts should focus more on direct actions aimed at reducing human-caused mortality and enhancing population expansion into suitable unoccupied areas.
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