Fascinating new research sheds light on unknown secrets of Polish wolf packs
New research conducted by the Warsaw University maps the DNA of the Polish wolf population and presents their dynamic expansion west.
After seven years of work and analysis of over 2,300 samples of wolf excrement, urine, and fur and tissue fragments from dead wolves, the scientists can not only distinguish three main groups within the species, but also where they migrate.
To add a broader geographical context, they cooperated with researcher from Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The results, published in Scientific Reports, shows that the Polish wolf population can be divided into Carpathian, Baltic and Central European groups, as well as smaller ones in the areas of Roztocze, Janowskie and Solska forests.
It is estimated, that the Polish wolf population has between 1,500 and 2,500 species. As wolves are crucial to ecosystems, naturally regulating the populations of other animals, their presence is highly sought after.
Unlike in most of Central Europe, the Polish wolf population wasn’t hunted down during the 19th and 20th century. Now the canines are returning to forests all over Europe, travelling from Poland to as far as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
As Polish wolf families grow bigger and there’s not enough space for new ones, the younger wolves are forced to migrate away, keeping the population stable.
The packs can be as big as 20 wolves, though usually they are much smaller, including one canine family – a male and a female, their cubs and sometimes younger wolves from previous litters.
The two packs in Wigry National Park (WPN) are a good example of this phenomenon. With their numbers falling since 2015 to less than ten, this year brought the happy news of little cubs being born.
Maciej Romański from the WPN’s Research and Education Laboratory told PAP: “In the spring, eight wolves were born in two families, four in each, but we do not know how many of them survived, because the mortality rate among young wolves is high.”
While six-month-old wolves are already quite big, they aren’t yet independent. The young ones still do not accompany their parents in their wanderings in the forest, and they spend most of their time in hiding places.
Once other animals, such as deer, foxes and boars are aware of the wolves’ presence, they become more cautious leading to eating more and letting the flora recover. In addition, wolves tend to kill the sick and weaker animals, strengthening the populations in the long run.
The research on Polish wolves’ genome proved not just theoretical, but a life-saver too. A month ago a young cub found on the side of the road after being hit by a car was reunited with his mom, thanks to the DNA mapping of Polish canines.
After a month of recuperation at the ‘Mysikrólik’ Rehabilitation Centre and ‘Wilk’ (Wolf) Nature Association, the young one was set free.
If he was released on his own, there’s little chance the wolf cub would survive without the support of his pack.
In the future, these findings can be used to help preserve the wolf species.
With detailed knowledge of the areas they inhabit, scientists can propose measures to protect them.
Dr. Sabina Nowak, ‘Wilk’ (Wolf) Nature Association’s President and member of Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe said: “The European Commission has long recommended the introduction of transboundary plans for species conservation, taking into account the extent of individual subpopulations.
“Thanks to our analyses the work on recommendations for the protection of particular subpopulations of the wolf will be much easier.”