PG1C. Stay Current—What Is a Population?

2020-04-08. Lynx Numbers Are in Decline in the West. By Karen Weintraub, The New York Times. Excerpt: In recent years, the U.S. government has considered removing protections for the Canada lynx, which has been listed as a threatened species. But a recent study in Washington State shows the medium-size wild cat continues to be very much at risk in the Northwest. The largest-scale survey of lynx in the state relied on 650 cameras triggered by motion detection. The cameras captured two million pictures during the summers of 2016 and 2017, which researchers and undergraduates at Washington State University then scanned looking for lynx…. [

2019-10-11. Giant reptiles once ruled Australia. Their loss sparked an ecological disaster. By John Pickrell, Science Magazine. [] Excerpt: BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and other ferocious mammals were the top predators of the ice age across most of the world. But not in Australia. Here, reptiles ruled: land-living crocs, monstrous snakes, and enormous relatives of the Komodo dragon, according to a study presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology here. The disappearance of these animals, the researchers argue, made room for mammalian predators to take over and set the stage for a massive extinction crisis that accelerated when Europeans arrived 200 years ago. “Between the expansion of agriculture in Australia, which changed the landscape, and the predators that we brought in, there was no way for native animals to escape,” says Kenny Travouillon, a paleontologist at the Western Australian Museum in Perth who was not involved in the study. …Most of these large reptiles, and the only large native mammal carnivores, had finally vanished by about 40,000 years ago along with Australia’s other megafauna, possibly because of changing climate. That left only small mammalian predators like the dog-size Tasmanian tiger and the even smaller Tasmanian devil to step into the role of apex predators across the continent. Price suggests these left ecosystems out of kilter. Things got worse about 4000 years ago when people introduced the dingo, a placental mammal from Asia that was a more efficient hunter than the Tasmanian tiger or devil and quickly outcompeted them. But it was the European introduction of the cat and the red fox in the past 200 years that has caused the most damage. These animals devastated small marsupials, which had evolved alongside the reptiles but were not used to dealing with more intelligent and effective placental mammal predators….  

2018-06-21. How the snowshoe hare is losing its white winter coat. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Like the iconic arctic fox, the snowshoe hare dons white fur for the winter—a good camouflage in the snow. But as the climate warms, the hares are increasingly ditching their winter wardrobes and keeping the brown fur they sport during the rest of the year. Now, a new study shows how: by borrowing a gene from a jackrabbit, one of their long-eared cousins. To find out how snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) maintain their summertime pelage, scientists sequenced the genomes of “winter white” and “winter brown” hares and compared them with the genomes of several relatives, including the black-tailed jackrabbit (L. californicus). They quickly realized that the black-tailed jackrabbit, which doesn’t undergo a winter wardrobe switch, must have mated multiple times with the winter browns. One key souvenir from that mating: a jackrabbit version of agouti, the gene that normally revs up its activity and turns snowshoe fur white in the winter, the researchers report today in Science. Hares carrying this borrowed gene are unable to turn white….

2015-10-29. Vultures nearing extinction in Africa. By Reuters. Excerpt: Carnivorous birds, which help stem spread of disease by eating carcasses that would otherwise rot, targeted by poachers. …Africa’s vultures are vanishing, according to a new report, posing a potential health risk to humans and livestock, since populations of other scavengers such as rats and jackals could rise as a result….

2013-08-05.  Climate Change Seen as Threat to Iberian Lynx.     Excerpt:  After 20 years and more than $100 million spent, the effort to save the endangered Iberian lynx is at risk because it fails to factor in the effects of climate change, scientists say.  The lynx is a spotted, yellow-eyed feline from Southern Europe that has long faced a dwindling food supply. Its preferred prey, the European rabbit, suffers from disease and over-hunting. Now only 250 lynx remain, mostly in Spain, and conservationists have focused on relocating them to more rabbit-rich habitats in the country. But warming temperatures and drier conditions could drive the European rabbit out of many of those habitats within 50 years, an international team of scientists reports in the journal Nature Climate Change. …To save the lynx, the scientists say, conservationists should focus on relocating them to higher ground where the European rabbit will be less affected by changes in climate. …. Douglas QuenQua, New York Times.

2009 November 4. North American Origins for the Falklands Wolf. By Henry Fountain, The NY Times. Excerpt: The Falklands wolf has puzzled evolutionary biologists since Charles Darwin first encountered it during the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830s. It was the only native land mammal on the Falkland Islands, which are 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. No one knew how it got there or what mainland animals it was descended from — and it did not help that the wolf was hunted to extinction by 1876.
But using genetic analysis, Graham J. Slater, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues have solved some of the mystery….
The researchers obtained snippets of DNA from five museum specimens, looked at variations among the samples and compared them with DNA from living species. They were able to build a family tree and a timeline of when the various branches diverged.
Earlier studies of the Falklands wolf had suggested it was related to foxes, but the DNA work showed the closest living relative to be another South American canid, the maned wolf…. 

2009 July 15. Greater Yellowstone elk suffer worse nutrition and lower birth rates due to wolves. By Tracy Ellig, MSU News.Excerpt: Bozeman — Wolves have caused elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to change their behavior and foraging habits so much so that herds are having fewer calves, mainly due to changes in their nutrition, according to a study published this week by Montana State University researchers.
During winter, nearly all elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are losing weight, said Scott Creel, ecology professor at MSU, and lead author on the study….
“Essentially, they are slowly starving,” Creel said….
With the presence of wolves, elk browse more – eating woody shrubs or low tree branches in forested areas where they are safer – as opposed to grazing on grass in open meadows where they are more visible, and therefore more vulnerable to wolves.
…the change in foraging habits results in elk taking in 27 percent less food than their counterparts that live without wolves, the study estimates.
…Obviously, wolves kill elk, and direct predation is responsible for much of the decline in elk numbers, but the rate of direct killing is not great enough to account for the elk population declines observed…. In addition to direct predation, the decline is due to low calving rates, which are a subtle but important effect of the wolves’ presence, Creel said…. 

29 March 2005. How Foxes in the Aleutian Henhouse Doomed Islands’ Plant Life. By CHARLES PETIT. NY Times. Foxes may not graze, but a new scientific study describes how their arrival on Aleutian islands destroyed rich grasslands and left only sparse tundra. The authors of the report, which appeared in Science last week, say this transformation shows how an entire ecosystem may go into a tailspin if just one new top carnivore shows up. The inadvertent experiment began in the late 1700’s and continued into the early 20th century as fur traders looking to expand their supply released nonnative arctic foxes and, in some cases, red foxes on more than 400 Alaskan islands. Some died out, but many populations survived…. The botanical impoverishment that has resulted is the reverse of what usually happens when a new meat-eater comes along. “Traditionally, the predator eats the grazer; the grazer no longer eats the green stuff; and the habitat gets more green,” said Dr. Donald Croll, a professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the lead author of the report. An example of the more usual routine is in Yellowstone National Park, where returning wolves, preying on sapling-browsing elk and confining the wary survivors to areas where they can see wolves coming, have touched off a resurgence of willow, aspen and other vegetation. The contrary effect in the Aleutians, once sorted out, has a simple explanation. The grazers on these islands were grass- and seed-eating Aleutian geese, which are smaller cousins of Canada geese. The foxes drove the geese near extinction, which would have been a boon for grasses except that the foxes also feasted on the eggs and hatchlings of puffins, auklets and other ocean-feeding seabirds they found brooding in vast numbers almost everywhere. Some islands lost almost all birds except for cliff-nesting species. And as ground-nesting birds faded, so did their nutrient-rich excrement, or guano, which had been a natural fertilizer. The research team concluded that islands with no foxes received an average 361.9 grams per square meter yearly. Fox-infested islands get just 5.7 grams per square meter of guano per year….

cover for GSS book Population Growth

Non-chronological resources

WolfQuest – – An immersive, 3D wildlife simulation game, WolfQuest challenges players to learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park.

The Population Biology of Isle Royale Wolves and Moose: An Overview