Wolves and Yellowstone. In the public mind, and in nature, the two are inextricably linked. Now, it turns out, they aren't alone on the ecological dance floor. Elk and willows play a critical role in wolves' success in the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem, willows serving as browse for elk--and elk as food for wolves. But there's another species involved, one that's instrumental to these well-choreographed steps: the beaver. Find out more in this discovery.
Once common in much of North America, Europe and parts of Asia, gray wolves now roam a comparatively tiny range. Worldwide, habitat loss and the effects of global warming threaten the long-term future for these icons of the wilderness. In the short-term, wolves must find enough ungulate prey like elk to weather the winter. The bigger the wolf, the better its ability to hunt and take down such prey. Or so it would seem. To find out whether larger body size in fact leads to better predator performance, ecologist Dan MacNulty of Utah State University along with other scientists studied whether wolves' size-related ability to handle prey might come at the expense of successfully pursuing that prey. Find out more in this discovery.
Credit: NPS/Dan Stahler
The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) of the Biological Sciences Directorate supports fundamental research on populations, species, communities and ecosystems. Scientific emphases range across many evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes at all spatial and temporal scales.
Dogs and wolves evolved from a common ancestor between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, before humans transitioned to agricultural societies, according to an analysis of modern dog and wolf genomes from areas of the world thought to be centers of dog domestication.
August 31, 2015
Understanding the ecological role of wolves in Yellowstone National Park
Study of predator-prey relationships in Yellowstone could contribute to predator conservation and management worldwide
Long loathed as a threat and nuisance, the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park was essentially wiped out by the mid 1920s. That changed in 1995, when the National Park Service reintroduced wolves there, with the goal of restoring a natural predator/prey dynamic to the landscape.
So, 20 years later, how has the park's ecosystem responded to the return of the wolves? That's just what Utah State University wildlife ecologist Dan MacNulty and his team want to find out.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and working in partnership with the National Park Service, MacNulty and his team are hot on the trail of the wolves' primary prey--elk. The team is following individually marked wolves and elk to determine how and why wolf-elk interactions fluctuate over time, the effects of these fluctuations on wolf traits and vital rates, and how wolves, grizzly bears and cougars interact to influence elk mortality rates. Fuller understanding of what's happening here could translate to better predator management decisions all over the globe.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1245373, Collaborative Research: LTREB Renewal: Yellowstone wolves: their ecology and community consequences. LTREB is NSF’s Long Term Research in Environmental Biology program.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.