Wolf News Roundup 5/21/2018
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
May 21, 2018
Wielgus departs WSU
Controversial wolf researcher Robert Wielgus, director of Washington State University’s Carnivore Conservation Lab, has reached a $300,000 settlement to leave WSU. WSU has since scrubbed its website of references to the Carnivore Conservation Lab and its work.
Isle Royale: 2 wolves, 1,500 moose
Researchers from Michigan Technological University have released the annual Winter Study report detailing updates on the ecology of Isle Royale National Park. For the third year in a row, the Isle Royale wolf population remains a mere two, while the moose population continues to stay above the historic average. Without the pressure of predation, the expanding moose population will have a greater impact on the island's forest ecology.
The wolf pair are closely related—both as siblings and as father-daughter—and the inbreeding within the island's isolated wolf population is what contributed to their demise. The wolves’ numbers started plummeting in 2009, declining by 88 percent from 24 to 2 wolves for that period; historical levels of wolves typically varied between 18 and 27. The pair, aged eight and ten years old, may have produced a pup several years ago but the female has continued to reject the male as a mate. One meager hope for new wolves formed briefly in early February. For almost a week, an ice bridge connected the island to the Ontario mainland. However, the ice conditions were rough, the bridge did not last long, and the researchers found no evidence of wolves crossing over. With fewer ice bridges and warmer winters, the chances of wolves recovering naturally is slim to none.
As the wolf population declined and forage remained abundant, the moose population has been able to expand. Counting conditions for the past two winters have not been ideal, but the team estimates the moose population to be around 1,475 members. The population usually numbers between 700 and 1,200 moose. Hoy, who led the skull size study of the island's moose that found their size decreased by 16 percent over 40 years, says we are observing a population in transition.
"Although the effects on body size are quite subtle, there was a marked decline in lifespan over the study period," she says, explaining that wolves are not the only factor affecting moose. The changes in both populations impact the rest of the island, particularly balsam fir, which is a staple winter food for moose. "Maybe the trees can withstand one major source of stress, but with the lack of predation and a changing climate, can it withstand two or more?"
The study co-authors include Research Professor Rolf Peterson, Professor John Vucetich and Assistant Research Professor Sarah Hoy.
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