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

so, suppose that a grey coat color would confer a survival advantage to wolves. Then, under those particular "good" conditions, an increase in the size of the wolf population would be expected to produce an increase in the prevalence of grey coats among the wolves.

By contrast, suppose that certain environmental conditions in a "good year" helped increase the population size of Yellowstone wolves by increasing the availability of their prey. Because the availability of prey and coat color are not related to one another, under those particular "good" conditions, an increase in the size of the wolf population would not be expected to produce an increase in the prevalence of grey coats among the wolves.

Coulson says increasing the specificity of the model's predictions requires collecting more data on the ecological and evolutionary responses of Yellowstone's wolves to various environmental conditions and on the relationships of these responses to one another.

As part of this effort, the Yellowstone Wolf Project research team currently is studying the differential impacts of various environmental changes on ecological and evolutionary characteristics of Yellowstone wolves during various stages of their life cycles. The team also is working to identify the types of environmental conditions--such as the sizes of various populations of prey species and the amount and residence time of snow on the ground--that define good, bad and intermediary years for wolves.

The researchers hope once the methods developed through this study are refined, they may be applicable to other types of species, such as insects or crop pests, that live in other types of ecosystems. What's more, Coulson suggests that these methods may ultimately help answer questions about human populations. As just one example, the methods developed through this study might ultimately be used to help predict the impacts of the ongoing obesity epidemic on survival and fer
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Contact: Lily Whiteman
lwhitema@nsf.gov
703-292-8310
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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