Canada's Rain Forest Wolves a Link to Past

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
October 1, 2004

From the inland fjords to the windswept outer islands, the north and central archipelago of British Columbia in Canada has been largely untouched by time. In the thick temperate rain forest, wolves reign supreme, just like they have for millennia.

To Chris Darimont, a University of Victoria Ph.D. student, the rugged and remote islands are "the home of the truly wild." Since 2000 he has been studying, among other things, the foraging behavior of wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest to learn more about the little-known ecology of the islands.

The wolves play an integral part in the ecosystem in the archipelago, and their diet can offer scientists important clues about the dynamics between predator and prey.

Investigating the feces of the elusive wolves, Darimont found that their diets consist to a large extent of black-tailed deer. But he also found that their diets vary greatly depending on location. On the outer islands, for example, wolves are far less likely to have a deer for lunch than on the inner islands.

These findings suggest that wolves can deplete resources in isolated areas, making the link between the predators and their prey more delicate there.

The information is important for understanding not only island ecosystems, but also for conservation efforts. If scientists can understand how species behave on isolated islands, they may be able to figure out how the species will behave in other places that are becoming more fragmented.

"Our planet is turning out to be a series of islands for wildlife and nature," said Darimont, who is halfway through his Ph.D. in conservation biology. "Instead of oceans and waterways separating habitable landmasses, we have highways, farms, and cities. The more we learn about island ecology, the more we can apply this information to the rest of the world."

Darimont's research is described in an upcoming article in the Journal of Biogeography. His project is also featured in a forthcoming National Geographic film called The Last Stand of the Great Bear, which will air on PBS on November 3 in the U.S.

Elusive Hunters

Much of the British Columbia archipelago is uncharted territory, because the islands are so inaccessible. Visitors must either fly or boat in. The weather is often unpredictable, and waters can turn very rough in the winter.

"It approximates what the coast used to look like, from southeast Alaska to northern California," Darimont said. "We can observe ecological and evolutionary processes here that are largely unaffected by humanity. It's a good opportunity to learn about how ecosystems used to work."

Scientists had virtually no baseline information on the wildlife in the area. With the logging industry threatening to move north into the pristine rain forest, Darimont says the urgent need was to "go out there and see what we have."

Continued on Next Page >>




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