Letting nature take its course: Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

[Probably not the final word on this, but this is a synthesis of 40 years of research on large mammals in Yellowstone National Park – and the impact of the reintroduction of the wolves. Can’t find original paper free online]

Press release with quotes etc: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181016150722.htm

Letting nature take its course: Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Date:
October 16, 2018
Source:
University of Alberta
Summary:
Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the park’s ecosystem has become a deeply complex and heterogeneous system, aided by a strategy of minimal human intervention. The new study is a synthesis of 40 years of research on large mammals in Yellowstone National Park.
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Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the park’s ecosystem has become a deeply complex and heterogeneous system, aided by a strategy of minimal human intervention. The new study is a synthesis of 40 years of research on large mammals in Yellowstone National Park, conducted by University of Alberta ecologist Mark Boyce.

“Yellowstone has benefited from the reintroduction of wolves in ways that we did not anticipate, especially the complexity of biological interactions in the park,” explained Boyce, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Alberta Conservation Association Chair in Fisheries and Wildlife. “How the vegetation in one valley responded to wolf recovery can be very different than in the next valley.”

Some of these complex interactions include the increasing influence of bears on the survival of elk calves, the relationships between wolves and hunters, as well as the recovery of willow, cottonwood, and aspen trees in different areas of the park. In addition, bison have replaced elk as the dominant herbivore on Yellowstone’s Northern Range, and bison numbers continue to increase.

“We would have never seen these responses if the park hadn’t followed an ecological-process management paradigm — allowing natural ecological processes to take place with minimal human intervention,” said Boyce.

However, Boyce explained, using the Yellowstone model in human-dominated systems would have a very different effect, and the top-down influence of wolves and other large carnivores cannot be expected to rescue ecosystems outside national parks or other protected areas.

“Human-dominated systems are very different and wolf recovery will not produce the same results because agriculture, livestock and hunting overwhelm the effects caused by large carnivores. We already have viable populations of wolves, bears, and cougars across much of Alberta but their influence varies depending on the extent of human alterations to the system.”

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Materials provided by University of AlbertaNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mark S Boyce. Wolves for Yellowstone: dynamics in time and spaceJournal of Mammalogy, 2018; 99 (5): 1021 DOI: 10.1093/jmammal/gyy115

 

 

And article ref page: https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article-abstract/99/5/1021/5107035?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Wolves for Yellowstone: dynamics in time and space

Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 99, Issue 5, 10 October 2018, Pages 1021–1031,https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyy115
Published:
26 September 2018
Article history

Abstract

The reintroduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to Yellowstone National Park is the most celebrated ecological experiment in history. As predicted by population models, the rapid recovery of a wolf population caused both temporal and spatial variability in wolf–ungulate interactions that likewise generated temporal and spatial variation in the expression of trophic cascades. This has amplified spatial variation in vegetation in Yellowstone, particularly with willow (Salix spp.) and cottonwood (Populus spp.) in riparian areas, with associated changes in food webs. Increasing influences of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), cougars (Puma concolor), and bison (Bison bison) are making what initially was predominantly an elk–wolf interaction into an increasingly complex system. Outside Yellowstone, however, humans have a dominant influence in western North America that overwhelms trophic cascades resulting in what appear to be bottom-up influences on community structure and function. Complex and unexpected ecosystem responses to wolf recovery in Yellowstone reinforce the value of national parks and other protected areas as ecological baseline reserves.
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