Recent science and research by the Voyageurs Wolf Project

By Joseph Bump

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A beaver skull in the jaws of a wolf.    

It’s been a busy and exciting time for scientific papers and presentations by the project! We recently published a scientific paper (see below), have several scientific papers being peer-reviewed, and several others that should be submitted for peer-review shortly. In addition, we have been busy sharing our research at international conferences this fall including the International Wolf Symposium and The Wildlife Society's annual conference.

Wolf personalities, beavers, and wetlands

At the start of June we published a paper on how wolf personalities can indirectly change wetland ecosystems. The article was published in the prestigious journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

For this study we assessed the role of personality using data from eight pairs of wolves across six packs from 2019 to 2020. We compared the number of times wolves from the same pack, which lived in the same or similar habitats and conditions, attempted to ambush beavers and the number of times wolves successfully killed beavers.

 

We found significant variation in the amount of time pack members spent ambushing beavers and in the number of beavers killed by pack members. Some wolves killed 229% more beavers than other pack members and spent 263% more time ambushing beavers than other pack members. This large variation in hunting behavior between wolves in the same pack is evidence for personality-driven differences in wolf predation.

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How wolves alter the creation and recolonization of wetlands in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem (GVE). We estimate that wolves alter the creation and recolonization of 88 wetlands per year in the GVE through this process. This research was published in the esteemed journal Science Advances in 2020.

The wolves that prey on beavers profoundly affect wetlands because our previous research has shown that dams built by individual beavers — those not associated with beaver colonies — quickly fail if the beaver is killed by wolves (see infographic below for more details). 

 

In summary, wolves with strong beaver-killing personalities appear to be disproportionately responsible, relative to the wolf population as whole, for altering wetland creation and the associated ecological effects. The presence of wolf personalities also suggests wolf cultures may exist because personalities are a necessary precursor for cultural formation in animals.

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A new beaver-created pond/wetland identified during our 2022 aerial beaver surveys. The dam of the pond is on the far right side of the photograph.

Sharing Voyageurs Wolf Project research 

We presented the research described above in October at the International Wolf Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, it was not the only research we presented. In fact, this was a record year for our project in terms of the number of presentations at a single symposium or conference. In total, we had 8 people associated with the project present 6 talks and 3 posters. 

These talks and posters focused on a variety of topics including:

  • mitigating wolf-livestock conflicts in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem (GVE) 

  • how wolves select den and rendezvous sites to rear pups 

  • how wolves shape forests through predation on beavers 

  • the importance of wolves and other large carnivores to ecosystems 

  • the fascinating fishing behavior of wolves in the GVE

  • using camera collars to study wolf predation

  • initial estimates of wolf pup survival in the GVE

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Tom Gable speaking in October 2022 as a panelist at the International Wolf Symposium's student/mentor panel.

Tom Gable was also an invited panelist in the symposium's Student/Mentor session titled "So, You Want to Work with Wolves...!". A few folks from the project also presented at The Wildlife Society's annual conference in early November and we will be continuing to share our work at regional, national, and international conferences as we head into 2023!

 

And lastly, we were excited to present at both conferences a poster we made that explores wolf diets in Minnesota’s Northwoods using a blend of art, science, and technology—a sneak peak is below. Stay tuned for more on this soon!

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