By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
There's a new kid in town -- or at least there was -- among the long-studied wolves of Lake Superior's Isle Royal, where biologist called him "The Old, Gray Guy."
Wolves forded the ice to occupy Isle Royal around 1950, turning the former moose paradise into a laboratory for predator-prey dynamics for the last four decades. In the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, a team led by Jennifer Adams of the Michigan Technological University in Houghton, reports one male wolf seems to have migrated more recently to the island in 1997, taking over its main pack and adding fresh genes to its gene pool, likely founded by one female and two males decades ago.
"Here, we document the genetic and demographic impact of a male wolf (Canis lupus) that immigrated across Lake Superior ice from mainland Ontario in 1997 to the small, inbred wolf population in Isle Royale National Park. This migration event was discovered in 2009 from detailed molecular genetic analysis of samples (mainly scat) from speciﬁc individuals and the subsequent construction of a pedigree," says the study.In other words, they analyzed wolf poop, 12 year's worth, to detect the new genes from the immigrant. "Before this discovery, the Isle Royale wolf population had been considered completely isolated since it was founded in the late 1940s," said MTU study team leader John Vucetich, in a statement.
The Old, Gray, Guy died in 2006, and the wolf population on the island has dived to only 16, following years of low moose populations. Only two adult female wolves remain on the island. However, the moose population looks likely to rebound, which may save the wolves, say the researchers.