RM Grey Wolves Genetically Connected

In July, 2008, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy enjoined the delisting of grey wolves in the Northern Rockies (thus placing them back on the Endangered Species list) [here, more].

Molloy based his ruling on a faulty understanding of genetics in wolf populations. A quote (with emphasis added):

Plaintiffs argue (1) even though the environmental impact statement on wolf reintroduction specifically conditions the delisting decision on a Finding of Subpopulation Genetic Exchange, the Fish & Wildlife Service delisted the wolf when there is no plausible showing of that genetic exchange between the Greater Yellowstone core recovery area and the northwestern Montana and central Idaho core recovery areas. …

As recently as 2002, the Service determined genetic exchange between wolves in the Greater Yellowstone, northwestern Montana, and central Idaho core recovery areas was necessary to maintain a viable northern Rocky Mountain wolf population in the face of environmental variability and stochastic events. The Fish & Wildlife Service nevertheless delisted the wolf without any evidence of genetic exchange between wolves in the Greater Yellowstone core recovery area and the other two core recovery areas.

Now wolf experts from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Yellowstone National Park, the Nez Perce Tribe, and UCLA have published a study showing that Rocky Mountain wolves are fully genetically connected — due to their (the wolves) propensity, as members of the Dog Family, for having multiple relations with whatever all the time (or words to that effect). The study is behind a pay wall [here]:

VONHOLDT, B. M., STAHLER, D. R., BANGS, E. E., SMITH, D. W., JIMENEZ, M. D., MACK, C. M., NIEMEYER, C. C., POLLINGER, J. P. and WAYNE, R. K. (2010), A novel assessment of population structure and gene flow in grey wolf populations of the Northern Rocky Mountains of the United States. Molecular Ecology, 19: 4412–4427. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04769.x

Abstract The successful re-introduction of grey wolves to the western United States is an impressive accomplishment for conservation science. However, the degree to which subpopulations are genetically structured and connected, along with the preservation of genetic variation, is an important concern for the continued viability of the metapopulation. We analysed DNA samples from 555 Northern Rocky Mountain wolves from the three recovery areas (Greater Yellowstone Area, Montana, and Idaho), including all 66 re-introduced founders, for variation in 26 microsatellite loci over the initial 10-year recovery period (1995–2004). The population maintained high levels of variation (HO = 0.64–0.72; allelic diversity k = 7.0–10.3) with low levels of inbreeding (FIS < 0.03) and throughout this period, the population expanded rapidly (n1995 = 101; n2004 = 846). Individual-based Bayesian analyses revealed significant population genetic structure and identified three subpopulations coinciding with designated recovery areas. Population assignment and migrant detection were difficult because of the presence of related founders among different recovery areas and required a novel approach to determine genetically effective migration and admixture. However, by combining assignment tests, private alleles, sibship reconstruction, and field observations, we detected genetically effective dispersal among the three recovery areas. Successful conservation of Northern Rocky Mountain wolves will rely on management decisions that promote natural dispersal dynamics and minimize anthropogenic factors that reduce genetic connectivity.

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25 Aug 2009, 10:37am
Homo sapiens Marine mammals Wolves
by admin
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NY Times Gums Up Science

The New York Times, that bastion of unbiased science, managed to gum up more research last week with a yellow journalism article about paleo Indians on the California coast.

The blaring headline in the NYT read, “Ancient Man Hurt Coasts, Paper Says”, but that is the opposite conclusion reached by the researchers.

Some excerpts from the NYT article:

Ancient Man Hurt Coasts, Paper Says

By CORNELIA DEAN, NY Times, August 20, 2009 [here]

The idea that primitive hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the landscape has long been challenged by researchers, who say Stone Age humans in fact wiped out many animal species in places as varied as the mountains of New Zealand and the plains of North America. Now scientists are proposing a new arena of ancient depredation: the coast.

In an article in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Oregon cite evidence of sometimes serious damage by early inhabitants along the coasts of the Aleutian Islands, New England, the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and California’s Channel Islands, where the researchers do fieldwork.

“Human influence is pretty pervasive,” one of the authors, Torben C. Rick of the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, said in an interview. “Hunter-gatherers with fairly simple technology were actively degrading some marine ecosystems” tens of thousands of years ago.

And, the researchers say, unless people understand how much coastal landscapes changed even before the advent of modern coastal development, efforts to preserve or restore important habitats may fail.

Dr. Rick’s co-author, Jon M. Erlandson of the University of Oregon, said people who lived on the Channel Islands as much as 13,000 years ago left behind piles of shells and bones, called middens, that offer clues to how they altered their landscape.

“We have shell middens that are full of sea urchins,” Dr. Erlandson said. He said he and Dr. Rick theorized that the sea urchins became abundant when hunting depleted the sea otters that prey on them. In turn, the sea urchins would have severely damaged the underwater forests of kelp on which they fed.

“These effects cascade down the ecosystem,” Dr. Erlandson said.

Today, coastal scientists argue about a similar cascade, which some attribute to sea otters’ being eaten by killer whales.

Two papers by Rick and Erlandson are posted at W.I.S.E. in the History of Western landscapes Colloquium [here, here].

The paper that discusses shellfish is:

Erlandson, Jon M., Torben C. Rick, Michael Graham, James Estes, Todd Braje, and René Vellanoweth. 2005. Sea otters, shellfish, and humans: 10,000 years of ecological interaction on San Miguel Island, California. Proceedings of the Sixth California Islands Symposium, edited by D.K. Garcelon and C.A. Schwemm, pp. 58-69. Arcata: Institute for Wildlife Studies and National Park Service.


We use data from San Miguel Island shell middens spanning much of the past 10,000 years in a preliminary exploration of long-term ecological relationships between humans, sea otters (Enhydra lutris), shellfish, and kelp forests. At Daisy Cave, human use of marine habitats begins almost 11,500 years ago, with the earliest evidence for shellfish harvesting (11,500 cal BP), intensive kelp bed fishing (ca. 10,000-8500 cal BP), and Sea Otter hunting (ca. 8900 cal BP) from the Pacific Coast of North America. On San Miguel Island, Native Americans appear to have coexisted with sea otters and productive shellfish populations for over 9,000 years, but the emphasis of shellfish harvesting changed over time. Knowledge of modern sea otter behavior and ecology suggests that shell middens dominated by large red abalone shells–relatively common on San Miguel between about 7,300 and 3,300 years ago–are only likely to have formed in areas where sea otter populations had been reduced by Native hunting or other causes. Preliminary analysis of sea urchin lenses, in which the remains of urchins are unusually abundant, may also signal an increasing impact of Island Chumash populations on kelp forest and other near shore habitats during the late Holocene. Such impacts were probably relatively limited, however, when compared to the rapid and severe disruption caused by commercial exploitation under the Spanish, Mexican, and American regimes of historic times.

Note that the abstract says, “Native Americans appear to have coexisted with sea otters and productive shellfish populations for over 9,000 years” and “Such impacts were probably relatively limited, however, when compared to the rapid and severe disruption caused by commercial exploitation under the Spanish, Mexican, and American regimes of historic times.”

That is not the same as “Ancient Man Hurt Coasts”; in fact, it’s the opposite.

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24 Feb 2009, 12:16am
Bears Endangered Specious Marine mammals
by admin
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Endangered species listings lack solid science

by Matthew A. Cronin, Ph.D., Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, February 22, 2009 [here]

Governor Sarah Palin and the Alaska Legislature were criticized for opposing the Endangered Species Act listings of beluga whales in Cook Inlet and polar bears. In these articles, ESA advocates imply the listings are based on definitive science. They are not. Gov. Palin and her chief of staff, Mike Nizich, have capably justified the state’s positions.

Animals considered under ESA are not necessarily endangered with extinction. Polar bears were listed even though worldwide numbers have increased during the past 40 years and most populations have not declined. Of the 19 populations identified in the ESA documents, five were declining, two were increasing, five were stable and seven were unknown. Polar bears were considered endangered because of global warming and summer sea ice models. Whether polar bears are endangered at this time depends on one’s view of the model predictions.

Models also were used for the belugas, so it also is not definite they are endangered with extinction. The number of whales declined from 653 in 1994 to 375 in 2008, but have increased during the past six years. Model results are predictions, not facts, and should be considered hypotheses to be tested with new information.

Some ESA species are not even species because the ESA can apply to species, subspecies or “distinct population segments.” The terms “subspecies” and “distinct population segment” are not rigorously defined, so almost any fish and wildlife population can qualify for ESA listing. Subspecies and distinct population segments are simply fish and wildlife populations with distinguishing characteristics in a geographic area. Examples of these categories include entire species (polar bears), subspecies (Pacific walrus) and populations (belugas in Cook Inlet).

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