Mange and viral diseases have a substantial, recurring impact on the health and size of reintroduced wolf packs living in Yellowstone National Park, according to ecologists.
Following the restoration of gray wolves to Yellowstone in 1996, researchers collected blood from the animals to monitor parasite-induced disease and death. They also tracked the wolves in each pack to follow their survival and allow additional data-gathering.
"Many invasive species flourish because they lack their native predators and pathogens, but in Yellowstone we restored a native predator to an ecosystem that had other canids present that were capable of sustaining a lot of infections in their absence," said Emily S. Almberg, graduate student in ecology, Penn State. "It's not terribly surprising that we were able to witness and confirm that there was a relatively short window in which the reintroduced wolves stayed disease-free."
The researchers found that within a year after the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, 100 percent of the wolves tested had at least one infection, but mange did not infect wolves living in the park until 2007.
"We can look at the biology of the diseases and predict which ones will come in first," said Peter J. Hudson, Willaman Professor of Biology and director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State. "What was surprising was that so many diseases came in so fast, but those were the ones we expected to come in first. It wasn't really a sequence, they were almost there immediately. That's very interesting in itself. "
The diseases that infected the wolves quickly were all viral, including canine distemper and canine parvovirus -- both contractible through bodily secretions. Mange, however, is a skin infection, caused by scabies mites, that makes the wolves scratch and lose fur. An infected wolf can lose enough body heat in the winter to freeze to death. Mange is spread by direct contact with an
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