Wolves: hunting affects stress, reproduction and sociality

killed wolf in Spain

Harassed wolves show elevated levels of stress and reproductive hormones.

A study just published in the journal Functional Ecology called “Heavily hunted wolves have higher stress and reproductive steroids than wolves with lower hunting pressure” by Heather Bryan (University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and a Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientist) and her colleagues shows that heavily hunted individuals show changes in reproductive behavior and that there is social disruption of their packs. The effects of hunting can have long-term consequences.

Wolves from heavily hunted populations in northern Canada show elevated stress and reproductive hormones — physiological effects that could have evolutionary implications.

Hunting can disrupt a wolf pack’s complex social structure, alter normal reproductive behaviour and introduce chronic stress that “may have evolutionary consequences,” the study found. Hunting can also decrease pack size, resulting in altered predation patterns, increased time spent defending kill sites from scavengers and may lead to increased conflict with humans and livestock, the study added.

A collaboration of researchers from B.C., Alberta, and Israel studied hair samples from 103 tundra/taiga wolves from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories against 45 wolves from the boreal forests of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

The tundra-taiga wolves hunt primarily caribou and live in an open landscape where they are easily killed by hunters on snowmobiles. The boreal wolves eat primarily moose and live in a forest landscape where they are killed at a much reduced rate by traps and snares.

Wolves have a complex social structure, with usually just the dominant pair in a pack having one litter of pups per year. Large-scale killing of wolves disrupts that structure, leading to increased reproductive rates and altered genetic structure and behaviour.

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2 thoughts on “Wolves: hunting affects stress, reproduction and sociality

  • Hunting used to be a traditional way to secure a food in the past. It is not like that, at least in Europe, anymore! European nature deserves our better and smart protection. Is anyhow the most valuable asset we leave to our children….Vlado

  • Same effects of hunting pressure can be observed in wild boars population..

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