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Estimating Gray Wolf Pack Size And Family Relationships Using Noninvasive Genetic Sampling At Rendezvous Sites

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Studying the ecology and behavior of pack animals often requires that most, or all, of the pack members are sampled. A unique opportunity to sample all gray wolf (Canis lupus) pack members arises during the summer months when reproductive packs localize in rendezvous sites. We collected 155–296 scat and hair samples from each of 5 wolf rendezvous sites in central Idaho to evaluate intrapack relationships and determine the efficacy of noninvasive genetic sampling (NGS) for estimating pack size and family relationships. We detected 65 wolves (5–20 wolves per pack) with NGS, and the pack counts from NGS were the same or higher for adults and the same or slightly lower for pups compared with the counts from observation and telemetry. The wolves in each pack were closely related to one another, and all packs included at least 2 years of offspring from the current breeding pair. Three of the packs had additional breeding adults present. In 1 pack pups were produced by a parent–offspring pair and a pair of their inbred full siblings, indicating multiple cases of inbreeding. This targeted NGS approach shows great promise for studying pack size and wolf social structure without the use of radiotelemetry or direct observations.

Document: Stenglein_et_al_2011_relatedness.pdf  PDF icon

Author(s): Jennifer L. Stenglein, Lisette P. Waits, David E. Ausband, Peter Zager, and Curt M. Mack

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