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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2008

The effects of breeder loss on wolves

Brainerd Scott M., Andren Henrik, Bangs Edward E., Bradley Elizabeth H., Fontaine Joseph A., Hall Wayne, Iliopoulos Yorgos, Jimenez Michael D., Jozwiak Elizabeth A., Liberg Olof, Mack Curt M., Meier Thomas J., Niemeyer Carter C., Pedersen Hans C., Sand Haekan, Schultz Ronald N., Smith Douglas W., Wabakken Petter, Wydeven Adrian P.


Managers of recovering wolf (Canis lupus) populations require knowledge regarding the potential impacts caused by the loss of territorial, breeding wolves when devising plans that aim to balance population goals with human concerns. Although ecologists have studied wolves extensively, we lack an understanding of this phenomenon as published records are sparse. Therefore, we pooled data (n = 134 cases) on 148 territorial breeding wolves (75 M and 73 F) from our research and published accounts to assess the impacts of breeder loss on wolf pup survival, reproduction, and territorial social groups. In 58 of 71 cases (84%), >= 1 pup survived, and the number or sex of remaining breeders (including multiple breeders) did not influence pup survival. Pups survived more frequently in groups of >6 wolves (90%) compared with smaller groups (68%). Auxiliary nonbreeders benefited pup survival, with pups surviving in 92% of cases where auxiliaries were present and 64% where they were absent. Logistic regression analysis indicated that the number of adult-sized wolves remaining after breeder loss, along with pup age, had the greatest influence on pup survival. Territorial wolves reproduced the following season in 47% of cases, and a greater proportion reproduced where one breeder had to be replaced (56%) versus cases where both breeders had to be replaced (9%). Group size was greater for wolves that reproduced the following season compared with those that did not reproduce. Large recolonizing (>75 wolves) and saturated wolf populations had similar times to breeder replacement and next reproduction, which was about half that for small recolonizing (<= 75 wolves) populations. We found inverse relationships between recolonizing population size and time to breeder replacement (r = -0.37) and time to next reproduction (r = -0.36). Time to breeder replacement correlated strongly with time to next reproduction (r = 0.97). Wolf social groups dissolved and abandoned their territories subsequent to breeder loss in 38% of cases. Where groups dissolved, wolves reestablished territories in 53% of cases, and neighboring wolves usurped territories in an additional 21% of cases. Fewer groups dissolved where breeders remained (26%) versus cases where breeders were absent (85%). Group size after breeder loss was smaller where groups dissolved versus cases where groups did not dissolve. To minimize negative impacts, we recommend that managers of recolonizing wolf populations limit lethal control to solitary individuals or territorial pairs where possible, because selective removal of pack members can be difficult. When reproductive packs are to be managed, we recommend that managers only remove wolves from reproductive packs when pups are >= 6 months old and packs contain >= 6 members (including >= 3 ad-sized wolves). Ideally, such packs should be close to neighboring packs and occur within larger ( >= 75 wolves) recolonizing populations.


breeding wolves; Canis lupus; hunting; lethal control; management; reproduction; social organization; survival; territories; wolf

Published in

Journal of Wildlife Management
2008, Volume: 72, number: 1, pages: 89-98