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Study of Yellowstone wolves improves ability to predict their responses to environmental changes
Date:12/6/2011

A study of the wolves of Yellowstone National Park recently improved predictions of how these animals will respond to environmental changes.

The study, which was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in the Dec. 2, 2011 issue of Science.

Part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, researchers tracked changes in various characteristics of wolves living in the national park between 1998 and 2009. They found some tracked characteristics--such as population size--are related to population ecology, while other tracked characteristics--such as coat color--are genetically determined through evolution.

The project also involved using a new model to compare data collected on Yellowstone wolf characteristics to environmental conditions through the years covered by the study. Researchers defined conditions in the park during each year of the study along a continuum from "good years" to "bad years"--with good years more favorable to wolf survival than bad years.

Tim Coulson of Imperial College London, the study's lead author, explains, "The novelty of the new model is that it looks at how the frequencies of changes in environmental conditions along the 'good to bad' year continuum simultaneously impact many wolf characteristics."

Study results indicate:

Environmental changes will inevitably generate simultaneous ecological and evolutionary responses in the Yellowstone wolves.

Changes in mean environment conditions will impact the size of the Yellowstone wolf population more than will changes in the variability of environmental conditions.

A single environmental change may impact various wolf characteristics differently, depending on which particular aspects of wolf biology it impacts.

Researchers say to understand their conclusions, suppose environmental conditions in a "good year" helped increase the population size of Yellowstone wolves by increasing their survival rates. Al
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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