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New Isle Royale wolves finding moose, beaver and hares just fine

Dec 03, 2019 06:46AM ● By Editor
Wolf researchers Megan Petersohn (left) and Cara Ratterman sample wolf scat found at a wolf GPS cluster site earlier this year. Scientists say wolves new to the island are finding and eating moose just fine. Photo: Tyler Petroelje, State Univesity of New York

By John Myers from the Brainerd Dispatch - December 2, 2019

Isle Royale’s recently bolstered wolf population is doing just fine at finding moose, beaver and snowshoe hares to eat.

That was the report last week from National Park Service and State University of New York researchers who conducted the first summer predator-prey study on the island.

The island has seen a winter wolf-moose study for six decades where aircraft is used to track the animals. This spring, summer and early fall, researchers used GPS tracking collars to see how the wolves, most of them recently transplanted to the island, are finding prey to eat.

The study used GPS data from collars on the introduced wolves to identify clusters of locations that signified areas where wolves spent extended periods of time. Between May and October, field crews visited 381 of these sites, determined what happened at each site, and located the remains of 60 prey — mostly moose, beavers and snowshoe hares.

It was assumed the new wolves, some of which had preyed mostly on caribou before being moved to the island, would do just fine bringing down and eating moose. And indeed, researchers found that the new wolves adapted well to the island environment.

More than half, 54.4%, of the remains by researchers found were moose. Of those, 63.4% were calves. Although not specifically designed to identify smaller prey, the study also revealed the importance of beaver and snowshoe hare in the diets of wolves.

There are currently 17 wolves on the island, two natives and 15 that were trapped and moved to the island over the past year from Minnesota and Michigan as well as Ontario islands on Lake Superior. There are more than 2,000 moose on the Lake Superior island that sits about 13 miles off Minnesota’s North Shore.

“Combining recent advances in technology with our knowledge of predator-prey relations will provide new insights, not only in the year-round foraging ecology of wolves on Isle Royale, but their overall role in this island ecosystem,” said Dr. Jerry Belant, professor at State University of New York.

Researchers from Michigan Technological University, the Park Service at State University of New York will continue to document wolf predation each winter and summer to monitor the restoration of wolf predation and its effects on Isle Royale’s moose population. It’s hoped the new wolves will breed and thrive and keep the island’s burgeoning moose population in check.

Park Service officials say there are no plans to bring in any more wolves to the island this winter. 

“We are going to see what happens on the island with pups (born in spring 2020) before we decide when or if to bring in more,’’ Liz Valencia, the park’s chief of interpretation and cultural resources, told the News Tribune.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Dispatch website.

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