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Climate change insight gleaned from Yellowstone wolves

Grey wolves in the Yellowstone Park. Photograph: Mark Miller / Alamy

A recently published article in Science reports (detailed here) that scientists who have been studying the reintroduction of grey wolves into the Yellowstone National Park have developed a computer model that predicts how these wolves will respond to climate change. This model allows researchers to gauge how the grey wolves will respond behaviorally and genetically to changes in the environment.  The hope is that this model will act as a template that can be applied to determine how other animals might respond to climate change and will thus allow scientists to predict which animals will be most resilient to climate change and which animals will be most prone to the threat of extinction.  The model takes into account a number of variables including the growth rate, the relative fertility and the life span that is then used to predict if the wolves will be able to adapt, both behaviorally and genetically, quickly enough to avoid the threat of extinction.  However, the model still has large room for improvement as such factors as changes in prey populations and augmenting infectious disease risk are necessary to develop a more robust model.  In any event, the model will provide a baseline for scientists to employ in order to predict animal populations into the future.

Nick Hudson

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