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Canada Earth Science

Iconic Predator-Prey Study In Peril 84

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the moose-vs-trees-vs-wolves dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have charted the ebb and flow of moose and wolf populations on Isle Royale in Lake Superior for nearly 50 years. Ice bridges to Canada regularly supplied the genetic stocks for much of that time, but have been rare in recent years leading to inbreeding, dwindling populations and developmental deformity for the wolves that inhabit the island. Now, with the first solid freeze in six years, new wolves could join the mix ... or the remaining island dwellers could leave." If new wolves do not appear, or all of the current wolves leave, the moose would end up destroying the native Fir population. The wildlife service is considering introducing new wolves as part of a genetic rescue, or reintroducing wolves should the population reach zero on its own.
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Iconic Predator-Prey Study In Peril

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  • That last statement could be considered non-English...
    • Maybe they outsourced it to a non-English speaking country?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The summary title isn't so great either. Is the iconic study in peril or is the iconic study population in peril?

      • by thaylin (555395)
        Both. If the population leaves then there is no more study......
        • Wrong. If they population leaves the study is concluded, and the fact that the population is gone is in and of itself meaningful data for said conclusion. It doesn't just end nor is it in peril, and artificially intervening as suggested makes any such study invalid.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What do you mean that's not English - it made perfect sense to me. Let me offer a translation:

      Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient. Mercedem aut nummos unde unde extricat, amaras.

  • WTF???? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:38AM (#46228303) Homepage

    If new wolves to not appear, or all of the current wolves lead

    Wow, have we given up all semblance of trying to be editors and know the English language? Or are we just throwing words at it?

    I can only assume that should say If new wolves do not appear, or all of the current wolves leave

    .

    Pretty sad, guys.

  • If new wolves to not appear, or all of the current wolves lead, the moose would end up destroying the native Fir population. The wildlife service is considering introducing new wolves as part of a genetic rescue, or reintroducing wolves should the population reach zero on its own.

    Quite honestly, my English is awful. But given that it is my third language, I do not feel bad about it. I would neverthless feel very bad about it if I was an Editor on a supposedly reputable site like Slashdot.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:53AM (#46228455) Journal

    So....natural processes occurring pretty much exactly as they have for thousands, if not millions of years. And humans, feeling they know how things "should" be, are going to interfere. Brilliant!

    Prediction: we'll cock it up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by sjbe (173966)

      So....natural processes occurring pretty much exactly as they have for thousands, if not millions of years. And humans, feeling they know how things "should" be, are going to interfere. Brilliant!

      It's worse than you think. I live in Michigan. We're worried about the Isle Royal wolves but the legislature authorized a wolf hunt this year to combat the nearly non-existent depredation [discoverycenter.net] "problems" from wolves. (181 total incidents over 15 years, most related to cattle and about a third of those are suspect claims from a single farm) Total economic impact most years is around $5000 for the entire state. This despite the fact that wolves account for a minuscule fraction livestock deaths. You also hear

    • by timeOday (582209)
      No, because the disappearance of the ice bridges in recent years is due to human disruption of the ecosystem in the first place. With this many people having this much impact on the planet the idea of "letting nature do its thing" is, unfortunately, out the window at this point. We are the cause of, and now living in, a mass extinction of a scale that has only occurred a couple times during the earth's existence. At this point the question is whether to mitigate our impact at least a little, or continue
      • There have been several significant non-human caused icy climate events in the past - most of them less pleasant than some ice-bridge melting.

        The presumed difference between now and then is that we have some concept that our actions affect the future course of the climate, and maybe we should be doing something to keep the climate in a good state for us.

        But, who really knows? Maybe there was some planet-wide communication among the dinosaurs, and some of them saw the problems coming and a way to avert them

        • by timeOday (582209)
          To date, global warming isn't the biggest factor how humans have impacted wildlife. The bigger impact so far is simply the fact that we're everywhere, hunting big game to extinction and devouring all habitat, to the point where we pat ourselves on the back if we preserve one plot of land that is suitable for some particular species.
          • The bigger impact so far is simply the fact that we're everywhere, hunting big game to extinction

            If that were true moose could not overrun the island.

      • by kaliann (1316559)

        The ice bridges aren't the sole human-related reason for decline of the population.
        Disease from domestic dogs and human-created changes to the environment have also directly diminished the number of wolves.

        From TFA:
        "Many scientists familiar with Isle Royale support genetic rescue, especially because human activity has contributed to the current population crash. Climate change has led to the decreasing frequency of ice bridges. Canine parvovirus, probably caught from a domestic dog, caused the wolf populati

      • by Algae_94 (2017070)
        Ok. I'll go with your explanation of why humans feel they need to correct the issue should the wolves disappear.

        The process of correcting the problem seems ridiculous. Wolves have a hard time surviving in an environment because humans have altered the climate and it is less than hospitable for them. Those wolves die off or leave. Then people just dump more wolves in the same place they had a hard time surviving? What kind of sense does that make?

        If you think human caused climate change is hurting this
      • by Xest (935314)

        I don't think so. I think that even if all the wolves leave with this ice bridge that the moose population will boom, but then when the next ice bridge comes it means the wolves will move back there en-masse due to the utter abundance of prey.

        Nature is pretty good at dealing with these sorts of scenarios, each time we interfere we just fuck it up completely. We just need to get past our short term view of "OMG THEY'RE ALL GOING TO LEAVE!" - I'd wager it's not the first time wolf populations have left such a

    • by jafac (1449)

      You mean. . . dinosaurs?

  • This will just be spun into an example of how Global Warming is to blame. Despite the wolf population doesn't predate the 1940s...

    • by thaylin (555395)
      Sooo, because some thing was not introduced until X moment in time you cannot blame a problem with it later on Y which correlates to the time when the thing is having a problem?
      • Sooo, because some thing was not introduced until X moment in time you cannot blame a problem with it later on Y which correlates to the time when the thing is having a problem?

        The term you are looking for is post hoc ergo propter hoc [wikipedia.org].

        However it is possible, though unproven, that humans indirectly have caused this particular population imbalance through climate and/or habitat change. It think it will be extremely difficult to prove or to rule out. The only real question is whether we should get involved in supporting the wolf population on Isle Royal or not.

    • not that simple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:41AM (#46228869) Homepage

      Global warming isn't "to blame" for this situation, but it is a factor: the infrequency of ice bridges between the mainland and the island has grown because of it. The real "blame" is more general human interference.

      The summary is misleading in suggesting that new wolves have come to Isle Royale fairly often. They haven't (I think there were only two documented migrations) which is why this ongoing study has been so scientifically useful: the island has been a (mostly) closed system for decades, allowing scientists such as Rolf Peterson to track the system without too many external variables. Before the wolves arrived over the ice, Isle Royale was being deforested by its moose population (which can swim to the island). Prior to that, the apex predators on the island were humans, during the island's period as a mining, logging, and resort area. After the island was made a national park, humans left that role, which created a boom in the moose population, which led to overgrazing, which led to starvation of the moose, etc. The wolves have stabilized that system.

      Before humans became a major influence on the island, it had a different predator/prey system, based on coyotes and caribou. But both of those populations have died out, and humans almost certainly played a part in that. Isle Royale is being preserved today as a wilderness, but it isn't an "untainted" one, and hasn't been for a couple hundred years. It is what it is because of human activities. Humans didn't introduce the wolves to Isle Royale, but in a very real sense, we made them necessary. Which is why I support the idea of restocking the island's wolf population, in much the same way that we restocked many of the rivers of the Great Lakes region after destroying their fish populations.

      • by zmooc (33175)

        Isle Royale is being preserved today as a wilderness, but it isn't an "untainted" one, and hasn't been for a couple hundred years. It is what it is because of human activities.

        As long as those human activities are merely that: human activities, I would still consider the island untainted in a way; there's nothing especially unnatural about most human actions, even if those actions often bear effects that might be described as a plague. This changes, however, when those human activities start involving actively trying to "shape" "nature", as is proposed by the ecologists this article is about. In my opinion this would instantly change the situation on this island from "nature tryi

  • Micro vs. Macro (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:55AM (#46228469)

    The island is too small to represent the rest of the habitat.

    To be honest I see this as a microcosm vs. a macrocosm.

    I think time and money could be better used elsewhere.

    • Which would result in this iconic group of researchers loosing funding.
      Oh, the humanity, would they prey for redemption from this peril?
      The world (like my ex) is a cruel mistress.

    • It is a good place to observe things like pack dynamics for one thing, in an easily controlled, relatively closed but still natural environment. The same with the pred/prey dynamics. Just because not everything observed is generalizable doesn't mean none of the data are.
    • by quantaman (517394)

      That doesn't mean it's not useful. For one we've seen a lot of evidence that population levels on the island are too small to offer positive selective pressure. This is pretty important when designing parks or wildlife habitats, you need a large competitive population to maintain the genetic fitness of the population. That's some critically important information if we want to keep our ecosystems functional. And if we see another ecosystem showing similar issues we might know to look for some kind of island

  • by Velox_SwiftFox (57902) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:10AM (#46228605)

    Whether the wolves leave or a few arrive, what is going to happen is that in three or so years the excessive moose population will indeed overrun its browse, and die off from starvation.

    Again. Exactly as happened the last time the moose population reached this point, and shortly popped up to over 2500 with no apparent wolf effects, from considerably more wolves.

    If the moose damage is to be avoided, either NPS-hired sharpshooters or human hunters will have to cull the moose, period.

    • Maybe they could transplant some of the excess moose to Minnesota since the ones on the island appear to be thriving while the ones up in the arrowhead are dying off.
      • That could lower the population, if there was much money available per moose for the moving expenses. But it probably wouldn't change the ticks or deer parasites or summer heat stress killing off the moose. They would probably be transplanted to Michigan's UP where the moose population is also languishing, if not suffering the same losses as in MN.

    • You're missing one of the only-obvious-in-hindsight things we learned from Isle Royale in the first place. Wolves keep the forests alive not principally by controlling how many moose there are, but by controlling where the moose are willing to linger (and browse out young tree seedlings). As the forests grow, exactly where those spaces are change, but that's fine; excellent, even; keeps species and nutrients circulating through the system at a very long period.

      It only takes an occasional wolf lurking in a c

      • Neat, yes, I wasn't aware of that effect.

        I assume it will have a lesser effect with so many fewer wolves around this time, unless some are added. So the last boom/bust would have benefited more, this one likely worse.

        There seems no record of wolves tolerant enough of each other for them to catch up at this point (1000 moose last winter, IIRC. With about a one-third increase a year on Isle Royale, recently.

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:14AM (#46228653) Journal

    For once we did not screw this one up. This is just nature playing the course.

    And if we already know what will happen, what good is conducting the study? How is science being done if the outcome is known?
    What value does maintaining the local fir population have? To who?

    My thoughts are something will find a way to keep the moose population in check, even if it is starvation from a population so dense that all reachable vegetation is consumed.

    • by Kvasio (127200)

      Perhaps a few years ago they've named some cubs Jaime and Cersei and they wanna watch sibling breeding

    • Not quite....i suspect the lack of ice might be due to climate change.
      • by scorp1us (235526)

        Well, that remains to be proven. Not the temperature trend as such, but the attribution thereof. I don't want to get into a whole global warming debate ending in a flame war over attribution. Your suspicions would need to be proven not globally, just locally since we're only talking about a 13 mile ice bridge, whose thickness for wolves would only need to be about 3"

      • The climate has been warmer in the past, it would be at some point if we were there or not (and in fact it's back this year). Eventually the wolves/moose are going to have to deal with a long period of no ice bridges, so we are just delaying the inevitable trying to maintain a status quo. Nature hates status quo...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For once we did not screw this one up. This is just nature playing the course.

      I'm sure it was the global warming man. And pollution. And oil companies. Mostly oil companies. Oh, and bankers! Democrats! Republicans!

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      This is not just nature. Isle Royale's ecosystem was disrupted when Europeans came to the region and started trying to strip it of mineral, forest, and animal resources. In the early 20th century we turned most of it back over to nature, but by then the some of the major indigenous species (and the peoples who hunted them on a small scale) had been wiped out. Most importantly, the coyotes are gone, and moose have moved in to replace the caribou. The wolves (and the foxes that remain) have filled the coyo

  • Kind of ironic, that the experts want to get involved.... yet again ... Why.... because they can, so, they can generate yet another useless study, that the poor tax payer has to fund somewhere along the line. Mankind hasn't learned yet that mother nature will balance where she sees fit. No need for mankind to intervene Then again mankind usually does intervene and messes things up and throws all into a tail spin....
  • This microsystem is an anomaly. Let it collapse as it eventually will. This kind of thing happens all the time in nature. I watched a neat documentary of a small ecosystem along a desert shore line with mainly a plant, a beetle, and chameleons in a food chain thriving off morning dew. The animals blew in/drifted in by chance and found a niche and any fluke weather pattern could collapse it. Just part of the roll of the dice.

    • This microsystem is an anomaly. Let it collapse as it eventually will. This kind of thing happens all the time in nature.

      Same thing I thought, I'm so glad were there to intervene. The Moose have been their for mayhaps thousands of years, as have the wolfs; it's taken care of itself quite well with no help from any body, just nature.. I'm glad we can interfere to cause problems in other unforeseen areas.

      Kinda like putting out every fire you see until the under brush is extensive enough for an inferno to wreak havoc over a vast area... like oh say the Yellowstone fires of 1988. .

      • by Algae_94 (2017070)

        Kinda like putting out every fire you see until the under brush is extensive enough for an inferno to wreak havoc over a vast area... like oh say the Yellowstone fires of 1988. .

        You don't have to look back 26 years to find a massive forest fire from the forest management policies we practice. I think you could find some examples from last summer. Most every year now there have been massive fires somewhere in the American West.

        • Kinda like putting out every fire you see until the under brush is extensive enough for an inferno to wreak havoc over a vast area... like oh say the Yellowstone fires of 1988. .

          You don't have to look back 26 years to find a massive forest fire from the forest management policies we practice. I think you could find some examples from last summer. Most every year now there have been massive fires somewhere in the American West.

          "The Yellowstone fire of 1988 was when the error of practiced policy was first realized." What I was told and thought to be the truth, till today.

          It was posting a reply to you I found it was just bad conclusion I was led to believe by the media at the time, who were blaming it on undergrowth left unattended, (among other causes) This wikipedia entry - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y... [wikipedia.org]
          pretty much claims it was just bad situations coming together at the same time.

          The media even got it's own section starting o

    • Can you imagine what would happen to the Earth if humans weren't here to ensure that nothing changes, ever, from exactly the way things are now (or whenever some system was initially measured)?

      From reading some of these pieces, you might think that the Earth is an extremely fragile place where the slightest human touch (direct, or indirect) ruins ecosystems from their pristine states. Granted, humans do mess up quite a few ecosystems, but the Earth has been, and will continue to be, an ever-changing, de
  • What about letting nature run its course and study that? I'm pretty sure no one was around to save all the species that went extinct a loooong time ago. In fact, the most dangerous predator has already been introduced to nature, humans...

  • $moose = Moose->new()
    $wolf = Wolf->new()

    ($mutant_moose1, $mutant_moose2) = Land::split($wolf);
    ($mutant_wolf1, $mutant_wolf2) = Land::split($wolf);

  • Or is Isle Royale far away from Frostbite Falls?

  • If new wolves do not appear, or all of the current wolves leave, the moose would end up destroying the native Fir population.

    Somehow I don't think wolves are essential to Finite Impulse Response filters.

  • Iconic Predator-Prey Study In Peril

    This is not a possible headline on a site that boasts of "news for nerds". The subject of that sentence is "study" and the verb cluster (elided in terse journalistic bravado) is "is now in" and the copular completion is "peril".

    A failed study is a study that fails to replicate. A failed meme is a meme that fails to replicate. Perhaps we should also protest ALPHA, our seemingly self-inflicted wound.

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