During the past century, habitat fragmentation and increased human impacts have reduced populations of large carnivores throughout the world. Although bears have been extirpated from human-dominated landscape in most parts of Europe, they still occur in multi-use cultural landscapes in Southern Transylvania, Romania. Wood-pastures—grazed permanent grasslands with scattered or clumped trees and shrubs—are important elements of these cultural landscapes and provide habitat for a wide range of species. However, wood-pastures are under threat from land-use change, including intensified agricultural use and land abandonment. In 2012 we assessed the level of activity of brown bears (Ursus arctos) and environmental factors influencing bear activity in 54 wood-pastures in Southern Transylvania. As an index of bear activity, we measured the proportion of anthills that were destroyed by bears. The variables were combined in 3 groups (anthropogenic effects, local variables, and landscape context) to test which group most strongly influenced bear activity. Bear activity was found in 47 (87%) wood-pastures. Bear activity was best explained by variables describing the landscape context, with proximity to the Carpathian Mountains, terrain ruggedness, and amount of surrounding woody vegetation positively related to bear activity. Local variables (distance to forest edge and anthill density) had no effect, and surprisingly, variables related to anthropogenic features (distance to major roads, distance to villages) were positively related to bear activity (albeit weakly). Most of the wood-pastures in Southern Transylvania were used by bears for foraging on ant larvae. For the conservation of brown bears in Southern Transylvania, it is important to maintain large areas of forest but also consider cultural landscape elements such as wood-pastures. To conserve European wood-pastures, we suggest they be explicitly considered in national nature conservation policies and in major European Union (EU) policies such as the EU Habitats Directive.
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Vol. 25 • No. 1