Extinction for Isle Royale Wolves?

Researchers fear wolves could become extinct on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale in a matter of years now that their population numbers only nine animals.

The Associated Press reports on the story, HERE, in the Duluth News Tribune.

Researchers Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich of Michigan Tech University worry the island’s wolves are unlikely to rebound from the recent population free-fall that has seen the number of wolves decrease from 24 animals in 2009. Only one of the remaining wolves on the island is female, adding to the scientists’ concerns.

Wolves have inhabited the island since about 1950 when wolves crossed Lake Superior ice to the island. The current population is the smallest since researchers began studying Isle Royale’s wolves and moose in 1958. The long-term study which is being continued by Peterson and Vucetich is the world’s longest-running study of predator and prey species in an ecosystem.

The researchers attribute the population decline to a constellation of factors: a shortage of females has prompted a decline birth rate; the disintegration of several packs has increased inbreeding and weakened the wolves’ gene pool; and a decline in the moose population, the wolves’ primary food source, has contributed to starvation and disease in wolves.

The National Park Service, which manages Isle Royale, could face the questions of whether to allow the park’s wolves to go extinct, to attempt to revitalize the population by introducing additional wolves to the island, or start over with a new group of wolves, if the the current population goes extinct.

The web-site for Michigan Tech’s Isle Royale research is HERE.

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