Science-- there's something for everyone

Monday, September 5, 2011

To restore lynx, bring back wolves

At first, this article seemed counterintuitive to me.  After all, aren’t wolves and lynx competitors?  Wouldn’t lynx benefit from the removal of wolves from their territories?  William Ripple of Oregon State University and his colleagues from that institution, the University of Washington and the University of Wyoming have a different take.  They believe that the reintroduction of wolves will actually help lynx recover from near extinction.

The hypothesis goes like this:  wolves are the top predators in any region in which they find themselves.  When they are abundant, they keep the population of prey animals and of lesser predators, such as coyotes, in check.  Without wolves, the coyote population and the ungulate (deer) population explode.  These two groups either consume or outcompete rabbits and hares, which are the main food of lynx.  Thus, the extirpation of wolves from an area has a negative affect on the lynx population.  The authors suggest testing this idea by examining the effect of reintroducing wolves into areas known to contain lynx.