THE HISTORIC RESPONSE OF GREY WOLVES TO CLIMATE CHANGE: A CASE STUDY FROM NORTHERN ALBERTA
Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada, takes its name from its large herds of wood buffalo (Bison bison athabascae), which support some of the highest wolf densities in North America. The park is dominated by a cool (mean annual temperature ~ 0°C) boreal climate. However, regional climate data indicate the park has warmed more quickly than global trends with a mean temperature increase of ~1.7°C by the 1980’s.
We collected stable isotope data (δ15Ncollagen, δ13Ccollagen, δ13Cenamel, δ18Oenamel) from wolves culled in Wood Buffalo National park during three time periods (1927, 1945, 1979), to investigate the effects of global climate change on wolf behavior and ecology.
Enamel carbon and oxygen isotope compositions are linked to diet and climate. Serial enamel samples from canines indicate only small changes in wolf δ13C and δ18O values from 1927 to 1979. Our enamel isotope compositions are paired with δ15N and δ13C values collected from the underlying dental collagen, allowing us to us to link changes in climate and ecology with estimates of individual and population niche width as well as specialist or generalist behavior.
Understanding how animals respond to climate change is one of the enduring goals in both modern and paleo-ecology. Moving forward, our study will provide a framework for investigating how wolves have responded to both modern and quaternary climate change.