Biologists have counted just three individual wolves on Isle Royale, with one of them appearing to be deformed, perhaps due to inbreeding. The environment is not best suited to wolves, who usually enjoy open space and wilderness with lots of prey. Conditions on the island have led to inbreeding and a lack of food, writes Dan Taylor for The State Column.
Wolves: “Genetic rescue” now seemingly impossible
Now the population has declined to three after one wolf apparently left the island. The formation of ice bridges has meant that the wolves could leave the island, and new wolves could join them, but any visitors have apparently not stayed.
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There was once a plan to stage a “genetic rescue” of the wolves by providing new wolves in order to diversify the gene pool once more. However John Vucetich, associated professor of wildlife ecology at Michigan Tech, thinks that this may now be impossible. There is no guarantee that the new wolves would mate with the Isle Royale wolves, or stay on the island.
Just a few years ago there were 24 wolves on the island, and the reason for the rapid decline in numbers has scientists puzzled. One theory is that the number of ice bridges has declined, as has their size, effectively trapping the wolves and preventing other individuals joining the group. Development on the mainland could also be to blame.
Moose could now impact ecosystem
As the number of wolves has declined, the moose population has increased to 1,250. Without wolves to keep them in check, the moose can unbalance the island’s fragile ecosystem. Isle Royale measures 45 miles in length and 9 miles in width, which means it is more than capable of supporting a larger pack of wolves.
The island has drawn a great deal of attention from ecologists because of the relationship between moose and wolves. A cyclical relationship has been noted, with moose numbers increasing along with the wolves. We can only hope that it is not too late for the wolf population to recover, in order for the ecosystem of the island not to be disrupted by rampant moose.