Wolf response to climate change can impact ecosystem

HOUGHTON, MI -- The way wolves respond to significant climate changes can have far-reaching consequences for the ecosystems in which they live, according to an article published in the Oct. 28 issue of Nature magazine.

The article details a study conducted by Eric Post and Nils Christian Stenseth of the Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Norway; Rolf Peterson, School of Forestry and Wood Products, Michigan Tech University; and Brian McLaren, Department of Forest Resources, Wildlife Division, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.

The wildlife data used in the study were collected during a long-term and continuing survey directed by Peterson on wolf-moose relationships on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

Scientists have known that predators at the top of the food chain exert considerable influence on the structure and function of ecosystems that are regulated by top-down interactions with lower level organisms, and that responses to climatic change at the top have the potential to shape responses at lower levels. On Isle Royale, wolves regulate such a system by limiting the productivity of moose, which limit productivity of fir trees.

" We investigated the ecological consequences of apex predators responses to climate change by using data collected over 40 years on wolf behavior and how it affected moose and their impact on fir saplings on Isle Royale," explained Peterson.

" Wolves responded to increasingly snowy winters by hunting in larger packs, and consequently, were able to triple the number of moose killed per day compared to less snowy years when they hunted in smaller packs."

Peterson said this greater killing efficiency by wolves brought a decline in the moose population that resulted in less browsing pressure on balsam fir saplings, which showed a noticeable increase one year after snowy winters. " We suggest that this evidence indicates that cascading behavioral responses of apex predators to climatic change

Contact: Rolf O. Peterson
Michigan Technological University

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