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Study: Wolf’s Coat Color Affects Reproductive Success

The Wildlife News Blog, October 15, 2012  (posted 10/23/12)

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Wolf Pups Thrive When Born to a Big Wolf Pack and Have a Large Mother

A new study out by well known wolf researchers have found that in Yellowstone Park at least black wolves don’t have the reproductive success that gray wolves do.  It appears that the gene for a black coat, which entered the wolf gene pool thousands of years ago, does more than affect coat color.  Black wolf females do not have the reproductive success that gray females have.  On the other hand, black wolf pups go on to grow up and thrive more than gray wolves. As a result this may be one reason the Park has about a 50/50 ratio of gray and black wolves.

The black wolf gene became part of the wolf heritage from some ancient black dogs according to a study a few years ago.

-The biggest benefit a pup can have, however, is not coat color, but the pup’s mother’s body weight and the size of the pup’s pack.  A big pack is able to help a large mom, positively interacting with her size.  Pack size and pup success is a non-linear relationship, however, with additional wolves after 8 in a pack adding nothing more to success, with pup success declining in even larger packs.

It is well known the Yellowstone Park packs have a much more favorable structure for wolves than outside, where the packs are smaller, often shot up in hunts and to protect livestock from the minor attacks wolves make on them.

It would be interesting to see if smaller packs cause more “trouble” for humans than larger packs (the total number of wolves being equal).

An article about the study by Drs. Dan Stahler and Doug Smith of the National Park Service’s Yellowstone Wolf Project, Dr. Daniel R. MacNulty at Utah State University, and Drs. Robert Wayne and Bridgett vonHoldt of the University of California, is found in Science Codex.  
Healthy mom with lots of help key to thriving brood say scientists.

Click here to see a You Tube video that highlights the study.


The paper is published by the Journal of Animal Ecology:
'The Adaptive Value of Morphological, Behavioral, and Life History Traits in Reproductive Female Wolves'
Authors: Daniel Stahler, Daniel MacNulty, Robert Wayne, Bridgett vonHoldt and Douglas Smith


Photo credit: Endangered Wolf Center