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Genetic research sheds new light on Isle Royale wolf population

Isle Royale wolf pack - photo by John Vucetich, Michigan Technological University.
Isle Royale wolf pack - photo by John Vucetich, Michigan Technological University.

PGreen_IRoyale_woves_repack_20130226.mp36.4 MB

(Click on audio mp3 above to hear an interview with Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green, recorded on WTIP's A.M. Community Calendar program, Tuesday, February 26, 2013.)

News Release
Isle Royale National Park

New genetic information has identified additional female wolves at Isle Royale National Park.  The wolf population has been the topic of considerable debate in the past year.  In early 2012, observations from long-running research by Michigan Technological University suggested there was only one female wolf left on the island, raising the question of how soon wolves might go extinct on Isle Royale.   The need to further understand the population issue led to genetic analysis to decipher the number and sex of individuals in the actual population.   The National Park Service funded the majority of the analysis, but the popular study also attracted support from an internet funding initiative and a leading US Geological Survey scientist and wolf researcher, L. D. Mech.   Prior inferences about the number of female wolves on Isle Royale had been made without the benefit of genetic study.  The results from the genetic analyses, as well as field observations, suggest that not one, but four and possibly five females were present in February 2012, including some that had been born the previous April.

Winter study is currently underway at the Park and researchers are updating information on trends in the population.  Lead Michigan Tech researcher John Vucetich commented, “genetic considerations and tools, like those used to estimate sex ratio, continue to yield considerable insights about this population’s  status.”   Isle Royale National Park Chief of Natural Resources Paul Brown added, “we are still a ways off from making any decisions about the future management of wolves on the island, but these results are very encouraging.  We remain concerned about the overall long-term health of the population and this new information paints a very different picture than what we thought last year.  The results of this year’s winter study will be factored in with the genetics information during our on-going review of the situation. “
The National Park Service is concerned the trends generated by climate change have the potential to trigger extinctions and isolation of many species across public lands entrusted into the agency’s care.  In fact, Isle Royale is in the process of trying to establish whether it has lost two species of fish (Ciscos) that were endemic to deep and formerly cold water inland lakes.  A national team facilitated by the Park Superintendent has been assembled to review climate change scenarios and a series of potential effects on wolves and other species at Isle Royale.  As the team progresses, information about their work will be available on the Park website, People who are interested in commenting on this situation can contact the park via mail or email at  There will be additional opportunities this year for the public to provide input to the discussion of climate change effects and  planning for the future of wolves on Isle Royale.