Research shows increased inbreeding in endangered wolf population

A doctoral dissertation presented on Friday at Oulu University has found that the Finnish wolf population has been hunted to such an extent that even its short-term viability is under threat. The genetic diversity of Finland’s wolves also decreased significantly during the 15-year study.

Some 300 wolves from Finland, and 50 from north-western Russia, were analysed using genetic methods. That allowed the researcher, Eeva Jansson, to follow individuals and their relationships with other wolves.

Traditionally it has been assumed that there has been extensive movement between wolf packs in the two countries, but the research showed that to be a misconception.

Little wolf migration from the east

Interaction between wolves on either side of the eastern border has almost totally ended, according to the study. Over the decade and a half during which researchers followed wolves, they found only a few in both Russia and Finland.

“The findings mean that individuals no longer really come to Finland from Russia,” says Jansson.

Wolves have been hunted extensively on the Russian side of the border as well, with around 100 known to have been killed last year, according to Jansson.

Migratory wolves from the east are unlikely to provide genetic variety in Finland, as they tend to stay on their home turf.

“That there are few additional individuals leads inevitably to a growth in inbreeding,” notes Jansson. “Close inbreeding leads to developmental disorders, skeletal deformities and weakens the ability to produce fertile offspring.”

Wolf hatred on the rise in Finland

Finnish wolf researchers are shocked at the hardening atmosphere towards wolves in Finland. Despite protection measures wolf numbers are falling, but fear, anger and hatred towards wolves is on the rise.

This manifests itself via threats to researchers and also via poaching. For example at the start of spring three wolves were killed by poachers in Perho. Supposedly responsible hunters had taken part in that hunt. Researchers estimate that Finland has at most around 130 wolves left.

Jansson hopes for a more positive image of wolves, which might lead to reduced pressure to cut their numbers.

“People should take a stand that predators are needed, and they can also be useful to nature,” suggests Jansson.

Her dissertation, “Past and present genetic diversity and structure of the Finnish wolf population” will be defended at Oulu University on 24 May.


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