Modelling and mapping vegetation change at Isle Royale National Park, USA in response to wolf restoration and climate change.

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Isle Royale National Park’s populations of wolves and moose are world renown as the subjects of the world’s longest running predator/prey study. However, inbreeding depression among wolves began to take its toll in the early 2000’s, reducing the wolf population to just a lone pair by 2017. Following a multi-year environmental impact assessment, the National Park Service began re-introducing wolves during the winter of 2018-2019. As of January 2020, the wolf population had been restored to at least 17 wolves. The primary purpose of wolf re-introduction is to reduce the growing moose population and their impacts to the forest ecosystem.

Beginning as a part of the environmental impact assessment for wolf restoration, our research has focused on the development and use of a spatially interactive model of forest succession and moose foraging and population dynamics (De Jager et al. 2017a), its use in evaluating potential effects of wolf restoration (De Jager et al. 2017b), and interactive effects of predation and climate change (De Jager et al. In prep). Following the wolf re-introduction efforts, our research has turned to using a variety of data sets (forest plot, landsat, aerial imagery) to investigate patterns of vegetation change. Our primary goal is to combine simulation modelling with observed patterns of forest change to sort out the main drivers of vegetation change across the island (e.g., moose, beaver, climate change, succession) and determine the degree to which wolf re-introduction has contributed to a trophic cascade.


Bull moose at Isle Royale National Park.

Bull moose (Alces alces) browsing within Isle Royale National Park.

(Credit: Nate De Jager, USGS-Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. Public domain.)