Reintroducing Wolves to Scotland Could Bring Back the Forests of Old


19th century gray wolf hunt. Image: Public domain

More Wolves = More Birds (Who Knew?)

Hunted to extinction in Scotland about 250 years ago, the gray wolf might make a comeback. Scientists have been studying the impact of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, and they found that not only was it good for the wolves themselves (the initial goal), but it was also good for the local flora and fauna.

Studying Yellowstone Wolves

Indeed, the disappearance of the wolves in Yellowstone allowed deers to graze more than they otherwise would have if predators had been present. They basically grazed many parts of the park bare, and that's what is happening in the Scottish hills too ("The red deer have been nipping Scots pines in the bud, so now the pine population has some trees as old as 300 years but no young trees. The deer have also laid waste to the birch population.").

But when the wolves came back "there was an unforeseen bonus: Not only did the elk population go down, but there have been 'major ecological effects,' [William Ripple, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University in Corvallis,] says. The elk now steer clear of areas where they perceive risk from wolves, leading to the regrowth of aspens, willows, cottonwood trees, and berry-producing shrubs. That in turn has supported the resurgence of beaver and bird populations."

So using that information from the Yellowstone experiment (which has the same species of deer and wolves as Scotland), scientists are trying to steer the discussion in Scotland. People should not only take into account the intrinsic value of the wolves, they argue, but also consider the broader ecological effects.

The Web of Life

This is a very good illustration of how interconnected everything inside ecosystems is. People who think "so what?" when they hear about some species being threatened with extinction, or when a whole ecosystem is on the brink (like coral reefs) need to understand that none of these things exist in a vacuum. If you push the first domino, who knows how many are going to fall...

Via Science

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | Scotland

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