The wolves on Isle Royale are suffering from genetically deformed bones. Scientists from Michigan Technological University blame the extreme inbreeding of the small, isolated wolf population at the island National Park in northern Lake Superior.
Researchers have collected the first scientific evidence that inbreeding has caused genetic deterioration of the bones of the wolves of Isle Royale. Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich of Michigan Tech and their colleagues, Jannikke Raikkonen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Michael P. Nelson at Michigan State University, report on the congenital bone deformities in the latest issue of the journal Biological Conservation. The work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation
The scientists found that 58 percent of the wolves on Isle Royale exhibit a congenital malformation in the lumbosacral region or lower back, and 33 percent display a specific deformitylumbosacral transitional vertebraewhich can cause full or partial paralysis of the rear legs and tail, as well as back pain. It is a condition also seen in domestic dogs. Other malformations were found in the wolves as well.
For the last 12 years, every one of the dead wolves the researchers have found has displayed bone deformities. In contrast, these deformities occur in only 1 percent of studied wolf populations that are not inbred.
"Until recently, we didn't know if the inbreeding was causing problems for the wolves," says Vucetich.
"There is now good reason to think that Isle Royale wolves have been suffering from genetic deterioration due to inbreeding," the researchers say in their journal article.
Peterson and Vucetich head a study of wolves and moose on Isle Royale that has been ongoing continuously for more than 50 years. The four packs there comprise 24 wolves, all descended from one female and one or two males who crossed an ice bridge from Canada during an unusually col
|Contact: Jennifer Donovan|
Michigan Technological University