Study shows Isle Royale wolves are genetically weaker

Apr 22, 2019

A relocated wolf steps out to the Isle Royale wilderness
Credit Courtney Celley / USFWS

Researchers say wolves on Isle Royale are genetically weaker from years of inbreeding.

A recent study looked at DNA collected over 30 years from wolves living on the island.

Michigan Technological University Professor Rolf Peterson says introducing more wolves from different regions may lead to a healthier population.

"It’s not going to be stable any more than it’s ever been," Peterson says. "But there shouldn’t be a problem with genetic-caused defects or health problems for a long time."

In 2018 the National Parks Service began introducing wolves to Isle Royale from Minnesota and Ontario. Without wolves, the island moose population has grown and wiped out much of the forest. 

But Peterson says there are still several obstacles that may prevent the wolf population from bouncing back. The relocated wolves may not survive or mate with each other, and there's no guarantee more wolves will come to the island on their own.