Global Warming Throws Off Predator-Prey Balance

NWF   |   July 23, 2008
Moose

Moose photo by Rick Libbey

Climate change has altered the natural balance between two American mammal species, and both populations are close to their lowest-ever levels and have been feeling the effects of global warming, the Washington Post reports.

Next weekend, scientists and National Park Service officials will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Isle Royale Wolf/Moose Study, which has helped reveal how predator-prey interactions can affect entire ecosystems.

Isle Royale National Park, located in Michigan, is a very isolated geographic region in the largest of the Great Lakes. Because the region’s moose and wolves live practically cut off from other predators or prey with minimal interference from humans, it is an ideal laboratory to study how the species’ fates are intertwined.

It’s worse for the wolves.

“Wolves will go extinct before moose do, and their extinction could definitely be caused by climate change,” said study co-director John Vucetich. “When moose are plentiful, the wolves also thrive. If the moose population drops—from disease, starvation or tick infestation—the wolves also suffer.”

Summers over the last decade have been unseasonably warm on Isle Royale National Park . Moose thrive in frigid boreal climates, so when temperatures rise above 60 degrees, their heart and respiration rates increase, and every step is an effort. In such cases, moose will spend unseasonably warm days resting rather than eating enough vegetation needed to survive the winter. With fewer moose, the wolves could be doomed.

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