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Denali Park Biologists Show Wolf Population Depends on Breeding Female Wolves

Denali National Park and Preserve

The Journal of Animal Ecology released a publication this week stating the gender and size of a breeding wolf can have a huge effect on a determining whether a pack will continue. 

Biologists at the Denali National Park and Preserve noticed that wolf sightings would drop after the death of a breeding female.   Wildlife Biologist with the Denali National Park and Preserve and graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bridget Borg says the long term project she works on monitors the wolf population in Denali Park.

“What I did was go back to our data set of wolves and that to identify those that we knew to be breeding wolves of those pack. And I looked at the cases of when those wolves died and what happened to the pack following that, did they continue or did the pack effectively end. Then also what happened to reproduction. So turnover among members within a wolf pack was pretty common in Denali. In most cases we saw that in the death in a breeding wolf was usually compensated pretty well, so there was probably other wolves who were able to step up and take the role of the breeder. But when we looked at cases with a pack ended almost all those cases were coincided with a death of a breeder.”

Superintendent of Denali Park Don Striker says although he didn’t participate directly in the study, he did have several employees working with the researchers. He says the Denali Park used science to preserve the wildlife within it.

“I think the implication of this study really confirms some things that are not a big surprise to most folks. If you lose a breeding member of a wolf pack it has a high correlation to the pack actually disrupting. And more specifically if you lose the female that tends to be the real trigger.”

Striker says the wolf population is important in the park for tourism reasons as well.

“We have several packs of wolves, typically, who live along the park road. Those wolf packs are the ones are, not surprisingly, most frequently viewed by the visitors who come to Denali.”

All of this is not to say that the wolf population is in trouble, Striker says.  It only suggests that wolves may compensate for the death of breeders in a variety of ways, including increased reproduction the following year.