Brandi Klingerman | February 20, 2017
Whether it’s because of folklore or wolf attack stories from Asia or Europe, wolves get a bad rap. However, the grey wolves found in Canada and the United States are relatively harmless to humans and may even be considered beneficial to other animals in some ecosystems. New Notre Dame research has shown that wolves living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are actually helping foxes, hares, and plants survive. This is because some larger predators and herbivores live in fear of being killed – but not necessarily because they are being killed – and change their behavior as a result.
Gary Belovsky, director of the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC), and David Flagel, assistant director at UNDERC-West in Montana, conducted several studies on the cascade effects that grey wolves at UNDERC-East, located within Wisconsin and Michigan, would have on the area’s ecosystem. The researchers looked at how both coyotes and whitetail deer reacted to the wolves’ presence, as well as how their food sources – small animals and plants – might benefit.
“What we are seeing is the concept of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’” said Flagel. “The coyotes mostly hunt small animals like foxes, rabbits, hares, and some deer. The wolves that live within UNDERC-East are territorial and attack the coyotes to keep them away from deer, the wolves’ main food, thus helping the small animals that coyotes kill to survive.