Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Resurgence of gray wolves in Great Lakes bad for deer, good for wildflowers and maples, study finds

A resurgence of gray wolves around the Great Lakes is helping to boost wildflowers and maples, says a report by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. That's because gray wolves are the natural predator of herbivores such as white-tailed deer. An increase in gray wolves means deer stay away, allowing wildflowers and maples to flourish.

"In scientific terms, it’s not a question of deer getting smart. Rather, they adapt their behavior in wolf-heavy areas to improve their chances of survival—and incidentally improve the survivability of the maples and forbs, or herbaceous flowering plants," reports Eric Freedman, director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University, for the center's Great Lakes Echo. "On a practical level, that means deer have adapted by spending less time foraging in 'heavy wolf use areas,' the study found."

By the late 1950s, hunting had eliminated gray wolves in the study area, along the border of Michigan and Wisconsin, Freedman writes. "They stayed extinct in the area until MDNR discovered a new pack around 2000-06. The department’s winter 2015-16 survey found a 'minimum population or 618 wolves in the Upper Peninsula [of Michigan] ... White-tailed deer populations in Great Lakes forests increased dramatically without grey wolves," and that had big impacts on forest sapling growth and diversity of non-grassy herbs. (Read more)

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