Wolves have been observed working together to ambush a prey animal, leading researchers to consider whether they are displaying foresight, planning, and other signs of impressive smarts. But new work suggests that as long as each wolf obeys a couple simple rules, the seemingly complex behavior emerges naturally, without any need for higher intelligence.
Using a computer model, researchers had each virtual “wolf” follow two rules: (1) move towards the prey until a certain distance is reached, and (2) when other wolves are close to the prey, move away from them. These rules cause the pack members to behave in a way that resembles real wolves, circling up around the animal, and when the prey tries to make a break for it, one wolf sometimes circles around and sets up an ambush, no communication required.
Coal ash: Two years after the coal ash spill in Roane County, Tennessee residents are still grappling with ash dust, housing buyouts, and potentially toxic water. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a government-owned corporation who runs the plant, claims the ash is non-toxic, while the EPA takes it’s time deciding if it should be classified as hazardous waste.
Wolves: Activist group Center For Biological Diversity is planning to sue the Department of the Interior if they don’t expand wolf ranges in the lower 48. Some states in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where the population has made a comeback, have legalized hunting to protect their herds.
Elephant genomes: New genetics data is showing that the African elephant is actually two species: the forest elephant is smaller than the savanna elephant and has a much smaller population. Dividing the “African elephant” into two species is going to be important to conservation of the forest elephant’s habitat and save them from poachers.
You’d think that nothing would make environmentalists happier than seeing a flagship species like the gray wolf rebound so successfully that it could be taken off the endangered species list. So why are some fighting to keep it on the list? Because wolves don’t see state lines.
Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana are the battleground states for the current fight over wolves, which last week resulted in U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s ruling that the species must stay on the endangered list despite its recovery. Two years ago the U.S. Interior Department declared that the wolves had reached a large enough population in Montana and Idaho to come off the list, so last year Interior Secretary Ken Salazar left them off. That allowed limited wolf hunts to begin in those states. Molloy, however, overturned the Interior Department’s decision, because of the rules in Wyoming.
That’s because Wyoming law allows the unregulated hunting of wolves throughout most of the state if they are taken off the endangered list. So while the federal government delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho last year after those states agreed to management plans that included controlled wolf hunts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) kept Wyoming wolves on the endangered list [Washington Post].
The judge’s ruling, then, was that the wolves must be treated as a whole population rather than individual populations in the states—after all, gray wolves don’t know if they’ve crossed the border from Montana to Wyoming when they go looking for new territory.
“The service’s decision to delist the wolf in Idaho and Montana reflected the strong commitments from the states of Idaho and Montana to manage grey wolves in a sustainable manner,” says Tom Strickland of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Today’s ruling makes it clear this wolf population cannot be delisted until the state of Wyoming has instituted an adequate management programme, similar to those of Idaho and Montana” [New Scientist].
A lone wolf named Brutus is helping U.S. Geological Survey scientists study Arctic wolf migrations in remote regions of Canada. These migrations can traverse hundreds of miles in 24-hour winter darkness at temperatures that reach 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
There’s no way humans can physically follow the wolves under these brutal conditions, so Brutus is sporting a GPS collar that beams his coordinates back to a satellite every 12 hours. As it turns out, the wolves are covering a lot of ground, as can be seen in the map above. Now, the fjords visible in the summer image above have frozen and can be crossed on foot. In one trip, the wolf and his pack traveled 80 miles from Ellesmere Island to Axel Heiberg Island and back in just 84 hours. Just through November 30, Brutus has traveled 1,683 miles [Wired.com].
At the beginning of September in Idaho the first federally sanctioned wolf hunt in 36 years got underway, and since then hunters have reported killing four wolves. Conservationists had been holding out hope that a judge would issue an injunction to halt the hunt on the grounds that the Rocky Mountain wolf population hasn’t recovered enough to survive the hunts, but the judge has now ruled that the Idaho hunt can continue. A second wolf season will open in Montana in just a few days.
However, Judge Donald Molloy also wrote that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in continuing to list Wyoming wolves under the Endangered Species Act while delisting them in the two neighboring states, “has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science.” That finding suggested that a coalition of conservation groups would have a good chance of prevailing when its argument for restoring the wolves’ endangered status gets a full hearing [Los Angeles Times].
80beats: For the First Time in 36 Years, Rocky Mountain Wolves Are in the Crosshairs Again
80beats: Are Wolves Interbreeding Themselves to Extinction?
Image: flickr / Fremlin
It may not come as much of a surprise to dog-owners, but it seems that dogs and babies share similar logical abilities, as shown by a study published in Science.
Experimenters started out with a classic logic experiment, which goes like this: researchers hide a toy in location “A” multiple times while looking at a 10-month-old baby and talking to him (“Look, I have this nice ball!”). When asked to find the toy, the baby always goes to location “A.” The experimenter then hides the toy at location “B,” again while interacting with the baby. But this time, when asked to find the toy, the baby continues to search for it at location “A.” The findings hold, even when a team changes experimenters midtest. Researchers believe that infants make this error because they believe the adults have taught them something fundamental about the world (i.e., “Your toy will always be at location ‘A’”) [ScienceNow].
This morning hunters in Idaho donned reflective vests and picked up rifles, and set off to track and kill an animal that has been off-limits for more than three decades: the gray wolf. While environmental groups were in court yesterday asking federal judge Donald Molloy to stop the hunt, the judge declared that he needs time to determine whether wolves should be protected from the rifles and returned to the endangered species list. While Molloy considers, the hunt will go on. As of midday Monday, more than 10,000 Idaho hunters had bought licenses allowing them to vie for a wolf trophy.
In March, the Obama administration affirmed a decision by the Bush administration to remove gray wolves from the endangered list, where they had been protected for more than 30 years…. Federal and state wildlife officials say multiple studies have established that the wolf population is healthy and growing and that the management programs put in place by Idaho and Montana will keep the animal from becoming endangered again [The New York Times]. There are now about 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies region, but last year Judge Molloy still stopped the wolf hunt planned for Idaho. He has given no indication of how he will rule this year.
About 850 wolves are thought to live in Idaho; of those, up to 220 can be killed in this year’s hunt. An additional hunt in Montana scheduled to begin on September 15 may kill up to 75 wolves, and members of the Nez Perce tribe can kill up to 35 animals. The coalition of 13 wildlife conservation groups who sued to stop the hunts has argued that allowing them to go forward could threaten the wolves’ survival by eliminating key connecting corridors among the various populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming [Los Angeles Times]. The lawsuit argues that without crossbreeding between the populations, the wolves’ limited genetic diversity will put them at risk of diseases and other health problems, reducing their chances for long-term survival.
Thousands of years ago a few bold wolves moved into a human encampment, and human lives have been richer ever since. But a new study shows that domesticated dogs gave something back to their wild cousins. A genetic analysis has revealed that the dark black coats common among wolves living in North America arose through wolves mating with dogs, who already had dark fur.
The finding presents a rare instance in which a genetic mutation from a domesticated animal has benefited wild animals by enriching their “genetic legacy.” … Because black wolves are more common in forested areas than on the tundra, the researchers concluded that melanism — the pigmentation that resulted from the mutation — must give those animals an adaptive advantage [The New York Times]. But what that advantage may be remains something of a mystery.
A legal battle is raging on over whether gray wolves should be removed from the endangered species list in both the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes region, with the federal government and environmentalists fighting over whether the wolf populations have recovered. But the situation has been made more complicated by a biological battle over whether the present-day wolves are the same animals, genetically speaking, as the wolves who lived in North American forests hundreds of years ago.
The court cases began when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted protections from wolves in the Great Lakes states in 2007, and from wolves in the Rockies earlier this year. Environmental groups contested both decisions. The Great Lakes decision was overturned in September when a judge said the wildlife agency hadn’t followed the law; the Northern Rockies ruling covering the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana was also overturned. After wolves were allowed to be shot on sight across most of Wyoming — and all three states began planning public hunts — U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in July issued an injunction to block the killings. On Tuesday, Molloy went a step further, restoring the animal’s endangered status [AP]. However, wildlife officials say they’ll try to delist the wolves again in 2009.