Under the Endangered Species Act, documenting recovery and federally mandated population levels of wolves (Canis lupus) in the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) requires monitoring wolf packs that successfully recruit young. United States Fish and Wildlife Service regulations define successful breeding pairs as packs estimated to contain an adult male and female, accompanied by ???2 pups on 31 December of a given year. Monitoring successful breeding pairs will become more difficult following proposed delisting of NRM wolves; alternatives to historically intensive methods, appropriate to the different ecological and regulatory context following delisting, are required. Because pack size is easier to monitor than pack composition, we estimated probability a pack would contain a successful breeding pair based on its size for wolf populations inhabiting 6 areas in the NRM. We also evaluated the extent to which differences in demography of wolves and levels of human-caused mortality among the areas influenced the probability of packs of different sizes would contain successful breeding pairs. Probability curves differed among analysis areas, depending primarily on levels of human-caused mortality, secondarily on annual population growth rate, and little on annual population density. Probabilities that packs contained successful breeding pairs were more uniformly distributed across pack sizes in areas with low levels of human mortality and stable populations. Large packs in areas with high levels of human-caused mortality and high annual growth rates had relatively high probabilities of containing breeding pairs whereas those for small packs were relatively low. Our approach can be used by managers to estimate number of successful breeding pairs in a population where number of packs and their sizes are known. Following delisting of NRM wolves, human-caused mortality is likely to increase, resulting in more small packs with low probabilities of containing breeding pairs. Differing contributions of packs to wolf population growth based on their size suggests monitoring successful breeding pairs will provide more accurate insights into population dynamics of wolves than will monitoring number of packs or individuals only.
Additional publication details
Estimation of successful breeding pairs for wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, USA