Back in the Family

Wolf pack structure recovers after hunting ban

Family albumWolves in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park have reassembled into natural packs after a hunting and trapping ban took effect, even though the animals’ numbers have remained steady. The finding, reported in Biological Conservation, suggests that measurements of factors other than population size are needed to shape conservation policy.

Researchers tracked 112 eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) in the park after the government issued a harvest ban in nearby towns. While deaths due to hunting and trapping decreased, the population density stayed around three wolves per 100 square kilometers, mainly due to deaths by natural causes. Analysis of blood samples, however, showed a dramatic change in wolf pack structure. Before the ban, 12 out of 15 packs contained unrelated wolves; after the ban, that number dropped to one out of 17 packs.

The newly restored social structure could benefit the population, the authors say. Studies of other species have shown that tight familial bonds can improve reproduction rates and lower stress. Conservation policies should “look beyond numbers,” the team argues, and consider social patterns as well. – Roberta Kwok

Source: Rutledge, L., Patterson, B., Mills, K., Loveless, K., Murray, D., & White, B. (2009). Protection from harvesting restores the natural social structure of eastern wolf packs Biological Conservation DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2009.10.017

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