The small group of wolves on Isle Royale has been studied for over three decades as a model of the relationship between large carnivores and their prey. During the last ten years the population declined from 50 individuals to as few as 12 individuals. The causes of this decline may be food shortages, disease, or reduced genetic variability. We address the issues of genetic variability and relationships of Isle Royale wolves using allozyme electrophoresis, mtDNA restriction-site analysis, and multilocus hypervariable minisatellite DNA analysis (genetic fingerprinting). Our results indicate that approximately 50% of the allozyme heterozygosity has been lost in the island population, a decline similar to that expected if no immigration had occurred from the mainland. The genetic fingerprinting data indicate that the seven sampled Isle Royale wolves are as similar as captive populations of siblings. Surprisingly, the Isle Royale wolves have an mtDNA genotype that is very rare on the mainland, being found in only one of 144 mainland wolves. This suggests that the remaining Isle Royale wolves are probably derived from a single female founder.
Additional publication details
Conservation genetics of the endangered Isle Royale gray wolf