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Canada Earth Science

Iconic Predator-Prey Study In Peril 84

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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich