The research, led by John Benson, an ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, fits into the larger scientific effort to understand the roles predators play in shaping habitats and maintaining ecological balance.
Benson, who authored the study with former doctoral adviser Brent Patterson, a research scientist at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry; Karen Loveless of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Linda Rutledge of Trent said, “Our work suggests that there’s an ecological role that wolves play that won’t be played by other animals. That’s probably a role that’s worth conserving on landscapes, even outside protected areas. If we’re interested in restoring landscapes to a more natural, functioning ecosystem, this would be an important part of that.”
Benson's work, while just a start, has highlighted the unique role of the eastern wolf. "We've shown that these wolves and coyotes exhibit different kill rates on deer and moose, and identified some key factors that influence this predation," Benson said. "The next steps will involve linking these predation patterns to the population dynamics of both predator and prey to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the relationships between these species."
Ecological balance is the product of thousands of years, and should be preserved for its intrinsic and extrinsic values. But policy makers and wildlife officials often demand numbers to help make management decisions. Benson and his fellow wildlife scientists won't ever be able offer certainties, but scientists are getting better at modeling predator-prey interactions and measuring the ecological impacts of specific species.
"The good news is people are trying to do these things -- asking bigger and better questions," Benson said. "And the technology we use in the field and the quantitative methods we use to build the models are improving every day. So as with much in science, the goal will be to keep asking the right questions, collecting the best data we can, and finding the most informative way possible to analyze the data."
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