Breeding displacement in gray wolves (Canis lupus): Three males usurp breeding position and pup rearing from a neighboring pack in Yellowstone National Park
January 2, 2023
Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) are territorial, group living carnivores that live in packs typically consisting of a dominant breeding pair and their offspring. Breeding tenures are relatively short and competitive, with vacancies usually occurring following a breeder’s death, and are often filled by unrelated immigrants or by relatives of the previous breeder. The frequency and conditions of active breeder displacements are poorly understood. Position changes in the dominance hierarchy are common yet rarely documented in detail. We describe a turnover in male breeding position in a wolf pack by males from a neighboring pack in mid-summer 2016 in Yellowstone National Park. Over the course of two months, three males from the Mollie’s pack displaced the breeding male of the neighboring Wapiti Lake pack, joined the pack’s two adult females, and subsequently raised the previous male’s four approximately three-month old pups. In the four years following the displacement (2017 to 2020), at least one of the intruding males has successfully bred with the dominant female and most years with a subordinate female (who was one of the pups at the time of displacement). The pack reared pups to adulthood each year. Male breeding displacements are likely influenced by male-male competition and female mate choice. These changes are the result of individuals competing to improve breeding position and may lead to increased pack stability and greater reproductive success. We report in detail on the behavior of a closely observed breeding displacement and we discuss the adaptive benefits of the change.
Author(s): Jeremy D. SunderRaj, Jack W. Rabe, Kira A. Cassidy, Rick McIntyre, Daniel R. Stahler, Douglas W. Smith