Thursday, 20 April 2017

Two in the pack: No changes for Isle Royale wolves


Date: April 18, 2017
Source: Michigan Technological University


For the second year in a row, the Isle Royale wolf population remains a mere two. Researchers from Michigan Tech say that as the wolf population stays stagnant, the moose population will continue to grow at a rapid pace. And this could have a significant impact on the island's famed forests.

According to Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Tech and co-author of the report, the Isle Royale wolves are no longer serving their ecological function as the island's apex predator -- the creature at the top of the food chain. With only two wolves left on the island, the moose population has grown to an estimated 1,600.

Without wolf predation, says John Vucetich, a professor of ecology at Michigan Tech and report co-author, the moose population could double over the next three to four years. And more moose means more vegetation is eaten. The observations were reported in this year's Winter Study, which marks the 59th year of monitoring wolves and moose on Isle Royale, the longest running predator-prey study in the world.

Wolf Genetics
Where have all the island wolves gone? The answer lies in genetics. The population crash on Isle Royale is the result of inbreeding -- the remaining wolves are not only father and daughter, they are also half siblings who share the same mother.

Researchers believe the two have probably mated at least once in the past: in 2015, an approximately nine-month-old pup was spotted with the two adults. That pup, however, did not appear healthy. Researchers noted a visibly deformed tail, small stature and possibly abnormal posture. Peterson and Vucetich were not surprised when the pup failed to appear with the adults in 2016.
 

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