Latest Research from Voyageurs Wolf Project: Can wolves change rivers?

The Voyageurs Wolf Project is focused on understanding the summer ecology of wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park in the iconic Northwoods border region of Minnesota, USA.

Wolf attacks on beavers are altering the very landscape of a national park

The alpha male of the Cranberry Bay wolf pack, dubbed V083 by researchers, is a canine with a singular specialty: killing beavers. V083 roams Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, and in the spring and summer, he and his packmates prey heavily on busy rodents, ambushing them along foraging trails and waterways. This year alone, V083 devoured 36 beavers, the equivalent of seven colonies.

Such kills have an outsize impact, according to a new study. By influencing where beavers live and build dams, the wolves shape Voyageurs’s vast wetlands—an ecological chain reaction that alters the contours of the land itself. “Looking at it over time,” says Tom Gable, a biologist at the Voyageurs Wolf Project and lead author of the study published today in Science Advances, “you start to see how interconnected wolves are to wetland creation.”

The research will likely add fuel to a yearslong scientific debate over the role that wolves and other predators play in shaping ecosystems. In Yellowstone National Park, years of fieldwork suggested wolves reintroduced there in 1995 thinned herds of elk, in turn reducing grazing on streamside plants and helping stabilize eroding creek banks. But subsequent studies have suggested the story is more complicated, and that wolves aren’t the sole agents of change.

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