Researchers from Michigan Technological University are raising concerns about the number of remaining wolves on Isle Royale in Michigan.
According to a newly published report, the small number of wolves on the island and lack of genetic diversity could push the wolves to the brink within the next few years.
During its annual winter study, researchers report they have only seen three lone wolves in a group. Scientists say they are unsure why the wolf population has plummeted, but some have suggested that climate change may be indirectly to blame. Sixty years ago, the island was one of the only places you can find grey wolves in the United States.
Scientists say it may be too late for the population to recover on its own and conservationists say intervention is necessary for the wolf population to recover.
“Isle Royale is the last place on the planet where you have a forested ecosystem, a wolf population and moose population where none of them are exploited by humans,” said John Vucetich, a lead author of the stuyd.
Due to its isolation, Isle Royale is an ideal location to study predator-prey dynamics. Since the late 1950s, scientists studied the region annually in an effort to determine why the population of wolves and moose shift over time. Since the arrival of the wolves in the 1940s, the wolf population and moose populations have shifted year-to-year. Last time the wolf population dipped down was in the 1980s before recovering in the 1990s.
However, the latest numbers are cause for concern. With such a small population, the wolves are susceptible to inbreeding, which would lead to serious health and reproductive problems in the future. According to scientists, the greatest threat facing the wolves from inbreeding is bone deformities, which occur at a rate of 1 in 100 in the general wolf population.
While intervention would likely allow the wolf population to recover, conservationists say he would take a number of years to get the program off the ground. The National Park Service is currently considering if and when they should intervene. In a statement released earlier this week, the National Park Service said while intervention would likely assist the wolf population, the bigger concern is climate change and its effect on species around the world.
“What are we going to do about climate change with species other than wolves?” said Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park. “That’s the larger question. That’s why we have to decide where we put the park service’s energy.”
It remains unclear what will happen to the island’s ecosystem if the wolf were to disappear. Scientists say the genetic strain of the wolf would disappear for good, and the moose population would probably return to its pre-wolf numbers possibly leading to a strain on the natural plant and vegetation of the island.