Iconic island study on its last legs: genetic rescue needed for Isle Royale’s inbred wolves

Between Thorn Bushes and Claws

by Emma Marris

Rolf Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT/Newscom

Since 1958, ecologists have watched wolf and moose populations on Isle Royale in Lake Superior wax and wane in response to each other, disease and the weather. But for the longest predator–prey study in the world, the wolf is now at the door. Devastated by inbreeding, the wolf population has dropped from 30 individuals a decade ago to just 10 spotted in field counts so far this year, leading the US National Park Service to consider importing new animals for a ‘genetic rescue’.

Now, nature is intervening — and could either save the landmark project without the need for tranquillizer darts and wolf crates, or sound its death knell. As temperatures plummeted last month, Lake Superior froze for the first time in six years. The 24-kilometre ice bridge could let wolves from the Canadian mainland cross to the US island, bringing an influx of…

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