In DepthEcology

Inbred wolf population on Isle Royale collapses

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Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, pp. 383
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6233.383

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For nearly 60 years, scientists have tracked the wolves of Isle Royale and their moose prey, uncovering key insights about predator-prey relations. Now the iconic study may be ending, as only three wolves remain, including a pair and what may be their pup, which may be malformed due to complications of inbreeding. The other wolves are presumed to have either died or left the island last year when a bitter winter froze the channel to the mainland, in a reverse of how carnivores originally came to Isle Royale. But even as the study on Isle Royale appears to be on its last legs, other researchers may have caught the birth of a similar natural experiment. Across the lake in Canada, three mainland wolves crossed the ice to a smaller island, Michipicoten. They seem to have settled in, hunting caribou and likely breeding. Scientists are now studying the trio, in what may be an Isle Royale redux.

  • * Christine Mlot is a science writer based in Madison.