Due to problems resulting from inbreeding, only 3 wolves remain on Isle Royale in Michigan which is leading to the moose population growing out of control.
Wolves first came to the Isle Royale over 50 years ago by crossing a frozen Lake Superior in the dead of winter. The wolf population on the Isle Royale peaked at over 50 wolves, but recently decreased to nine wolves in 2014 before crashing to three wolves this year. Scientists theorize that this is due to genetic defects resulting from decades of inbreeding.
Due to these genetic defects, the wolves are suffering from low sperm counts, heart abnormalities, and less viable pups. Without rapid action, scientists are concerned that the remaining wolves could die off in the very near future.
With the decrease in the wolf population and reduced predation, the moose population on Isle Royale has exploded; increasing from less than 500 to over 1,000 in recent years. Since the entirety of the island is a national park, human hunting is prohibited and the wolves are the only thing keeping the moose population in check.
According to Michigan Technological University research professor Rolf Peterson, moose are very prolific eaters and a single moose consumes 30-40 pounds of plants per day:
They browse their favorite trees, which in winter happen to be balsam fir. They remove all the foliage up as high as they can reach — up to 9 feet.
Obviously, this can cause serious damage to the fauna of the island. If the moose population continues to grow unchecked and they keep over-browsing their food sources, the moose population will likely suffer a catastrophic die-off as well in the near future.
Not only would the continued collapse of the wolf population be detrimental for the long-term health of the moose population on the Isle Royale, but it would also rob researchers of an important opportunity to research wolves and their relationship with moose. Since the island is so isolated, and since there is such minimal human presence on the island, the Isle Royale provides a unique setting to conduct research.
In order to prevent this, Michigan wildlife officials are considering conducting a genetic rescue of the wolf population by introducing wolves from other sources to diversify the gene pool. This was tried recently in the state of Florida with great success with panthers.
However, existing federal laws make this a difficult proposition and researchers fear that the wolf population on the Isle Royale could die off before any new wolves are introduced to add some genetic diversity.
If scientists are unsuccessful in their efforts and the wolf population does indeed collapse, something needs to be done to control the moose population. Maybe a special moose season for moose hunters on the Isle Royale would be in order?
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