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APES Unit 3: Populations

Population Ecology Mini-Lab


Part A: Wolf Wars Population Growth Curve
Shortly after killing the last Yellowstone wolves in 1926, park officials were culling elk by the
thousands. The elk kept rebounding and overgrazing key habitats, creating a perpetually
unnatural situation for a park intended to preserve nature. Wolves where then reintroduced to
the park. When the new wolves in Yellowstone first came calling, the areas elk and moose stood
their ground as though they were still dealing with coyotes. Bad idea. Today, Yellowstone holds
half the elk it did 15 years ago.
With a near-unlimited meat supply, Yellowstones new wolves rapidly multiplied. But the count
abruptly fell in 2005. It increased again, reaching 171 in 2007, then sank to 124 by the end of
2008, a 27 percent drop this time. Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, recorded
the fewest breeding pairs since 2000 in 2010. We have a declining wolf population, he says.
Numbers never got as high as we expected based on the availability of prey. This suggests that
once wolves reach a certain density, you start to get social regulation of their numbers.
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National Geographic Magazine

Objective: Evaluate the population growth curve for wolves in Yellowstone post-reintroduction.
Procedures:
1. Since the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, the National Park Service has posted annual
reports on the wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park. The links below take you
to the annual reports and basic information about the wolves.
http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/wolves.htm
http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolfreports.htm

2. Review the Abstract/ Summary of each of the annual reports from 1995 to 2014.
3. Within the abstract, identify the total number of wolves in Yellowstone National Park at
the end of each year. Begin with the first year 1995.
4. Create a table and properly scaled graph to show the wolf population vs. time on graph
paper. Be sure to title your table and graph and to label your axes.
5. With colored pencils, label the following on your graph. Create a key with definitions for
each:
a. Exponential Growth
b. Carrying Capacity (K)
c. Overshoot
d. Dieback

APES Unit 3: Populations


Population Ecology Mini-Lab
Analysis Questions
Answer these questions on a separate piece of paper and staple it to your graph when you hand in
your assignment. You may need to refer to chapter 6 in your textbook when answering
questions.
1. Based on figure 4 in the 2014 annual report, how would you describe the population
density of the wolf population? (Random, Uniform, or Clumped) Why? Is this what you
would expect for wolves?
2. Analyze the population characteristics of the wolf population in 2014:
a. What was the population size?
b. What was the population density? (you need to figure out how big Yellowstone
National Park is to answer this question)
3. Look at figure two in the 2014 annual report and read about the survival of rate of wolf
pup. Based on the number of pups born and their survival rate do you think wolves are kselected or r-selected? Why?
4. Environmental resistance (limiting factors) can be classified in two broad categories
density-dependent factors and density-independent factors. Based on your graph, explain
which category you think is impacting the wolf population.
5. Describe what would happen to the elk population of YNP during a wolf population
dieback. Sketch a graph showing both the wolf and elk populations 1995 to the present.
This is just a sketch Im more interested in your knowledge of their interactions than
specific numbers.
6. In recent years, there has been information documenting the wolves reintroduction as a
success for the entire ecosystem. This phenomenon has been referred to as the cascade
effect. What is the cascade effect and how has the return of wolves in Yellowstone
benefited the entire ecosystem? Site specific examples.
The video below may help you find specific examples of how wolves benefit the entire
ecosystem.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q
7. What is the estimated carrying capacity of Yellowstone? Understand that there are many
factors that influence this number. You may be able to decipher two different time
periods where it appears that the wolf population has stabilized and reached a carrying
capacity.
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