Biologist: Adding More Wolves To Isle Royale Would Help Vegetation

May 6, 2014

A Michigan Tech biologist says wolves should be brought to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior if officials want to save island vegetation.

Credit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

John Vucetich heads a study of the predator-prey relationship in the park between wolves and moose. He says more wolves would help keep the moose population under control. He says, if left unchecked, moose will over-browse and decimate the island’s vegetation.

Vucetich says this is the point where scientists must ask themselves what the purpose of a protected area is.

“If the purpose of a protected area is to maintain ecosystem health, then you might come to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to bring a few wolves from the mainland to Isle Royale,” he says. “The purpose of that would be to mitigate the negative effects of inbreeding depression.”

Vucetich says the number of wolves has dwindled to nine. “Inbreeding depression”—or the decreased ability of a population to survive and reproduce because of inbreeding—has drastically reduced the wolves’ predation rate and allowed the moose population to double.

“Predation rate represents wolves’ ecosystem function, it’s what they do in an ecosystem, it’s why they’re important,” he says. “And the predation rate also is a very important indicator of what kind of influence wolves will have on the moose population.”   

Isle Royale officials are planning a two-to-three year study of the problem.