Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Isle Royale Wolves fall prey to inbreeding problems

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech Public Relations Director
Posted Mar. 26, 2013, on Michigan Tech News

Wolves of Isle Royale National Park. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Technological University’s annual Winter Study of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale National Park counted eight wolves on the island this winter, down one from last year. And as far as the researchers could tell, no wolf pups were born in 2012.

"This is the first year since 1971, the year reproduction first began being monitored, that we did not detect any sign that pups had been born during the past year," wrote John Vucetich, the Michigan Tech population biologist who heads the annual study, in the 2012-13 Winter Study annual report released this week.

"We failed to detect signs of courtship or mating in the Chippewa Harbor Pack in either of the past two winters," Vucetich went on to say. "This winter, we observed signs of courtship in the West-end Trio, but we cannot say if mating occurred."

Inbreeding could be affecting reproduction. All of the wolves at Isle Royale National Park are highly inbred. The Isle Royale wolf population was founded from three wolves—a female and two males—that arrived on Isle Royale more than five decades ago.

Inbreeding continues to be a serious concern. The Isle Royale wolves already show spinal anomalies that are a result of close inbreeding for several generations, and there are likely other physical or physiological effects, the researchers say.

Most wolves have an average life span of less than five years. If the wolves on Isle Royale continue not to breed, the population will soon be gone.

Click here for the full story on Michigan Tech News.

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