Exploring landscape connectivity with genome-wide profiles: how does genetic structure in Romanian wolves contribute to the divergence between Carpathian and Dinaric-Balkan populations?


Navn: Helena Sif Ericson

Titel: Stud. Scient., Biologi



Uddannelsessted: Aalborg Universitet, Department of Chemistry and Bioscience

Vejleder: Astrid Vik Strønen                                                

Titel: PhD






Flere arter har over de seneste årtier re-koloniseret dele af deres historiske leveområder i Europa. Dog er forbindelserne mellem nogle af kildepopulationerne til denne re-koloniseringen forsat uklare. Ulven, en art som for nylig har re-koloniseret Danmark og Tyskland, udviser tydelige genetiske forskelle mellem populationen i bjergkæden Karpaterne og populationen i Dinaric-Balkan regionen længere mod syd. Det forholder sig sådan på trods af ulvens kontinuerlige tilstedeværelse i det sammenhængende område mellem de to regioner, og ulvens evne til at vandre lange distancer på flere hundrede kilometer. Formålet med denne undersøgelse er at bestemme (1) den genetiske struktur for ulve i Rumænien, og (2) hvordan denne genetiske struktur bidrager til den observerede divergens mellem ulvene i Karpaterne i nord og Balkan-Dinaric regionen i syd. Vi forventer, at resultaterne vil fremme (1) forståelsen af populationers genetiske forbindelse mellem vigtige naturområder i Europa og (2) bevaring og forvaltning af meget mobile rovdyr og deres habitater.


Over the past decades, several wide-ranging species have expanded their distribution and reclaimed parts of their historic range in Europe, including the moose, bear, wolf and lynx. From founding populations in east-central Europe, the wolf has recolonized e.g. Germany and Denmark. However, some uncertainties remain about population structure and connectivity among key areas that function as sources for the current European ‘rewilding’ process.

Genome-wide analyses have shown that central European wolves in the Carpathian Mountains show clear differentiation from wolves father south in the Dinaric-Balkan region. This occurs despite extensive wilderness areas in Romania and a continuous wolf range extending between the two regions. Romania and the Southern Carpathian Mountains represent a key area for preservation of genetic diversity in European wildlife, preserving ecosystems that still include large and wide-ranging carnivores such as bears, wolves and lynx.

This study, a Master degree collaboration between Aalborg University in Denmark and the National Institute for Research and Development in Forestry “Marin Dracea” in Romania, aims to clarify how genetic structure in Romanian wolves contribute to the observed isolation between Carpathian and Dinaric-Balkan wolves. Based on the results, the study will provide conservation recommendations for connectivity and conservation of priority areas for habitat protection. This information is required to inform carnivore management and emerging conservation efforts such as the Pan European Green Corridor Network (PEGNet -

Objectives and hypotheses

The objectives of this Master research project are to:

  1. Quantify the extent of population structure within Romania, to determine if appropriate spatial conservation units for habitat protection is needed;
  2. Determine the genetic relationship between wolves in Romania with those of neighbouring areas – the Carpathian Mountains to the north and the Dinaric-Balkan region to the south.
  3. Assess whether structuring may be associated with local environmental selection (by screening for outlier SNPs among populations) that could result from differences in e.g. temperature, habitat and prey type.

Hypotheses based on the current knowledge of regional wolf population structure:

  1. Romanian wolves represent a north-south gradient in genetic profiles without any distinct spatial structuring.
  2. Romanian wolves exhibit distinct population structure whereby northern individuals are grouped with Carpathian wolves, and southern individuals cluster with Dinaric Balkan wolves. 

Expected outcomes

In addition to advancing student skills and knowledge, the results of this collaborative research project are expected to advance:

  1. Knowledge of population genetic structure in a relatively unexplored but important part of the wolf range in Europe;
  2. Understanding of population connectivity for European wolves, with implications for other carnivores that require large home ranges;
  3. Conservation management for wolves and other carnivores based increasingly on observed population boundaries and meaningful biological units, as opposed to only national borders, which is critical for wide-ranging species but difficult if population substructure is poorly understood.
  4. International collaboration between countries with newly recovered populations (Denmark) or uninterrupted presence of wolves (Romania), and exchange of knowledge, data and information on genomic analyses relevant to wild species in Europe and beyond.