Bio 121: Wolf Biology and Conservation
In January 2008, eighteen students (mostly firstyear) learned about evolution, genetics, community ecology and conservation biology with a well-studied socially complex predator as a single case study. Wolves are symbols and surrogates for sociopolitical attitudes, and social attitudes towards nature and its conservation. The course met for two hours per day, 5 days a week, for the month of January where the students practiced tracking birds and mammals on their campus, taking field notes and modeling predator populations using VORTEX PVA software. The cost of the class was $600 due to field trips to the Minnesota Zoo and the Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.
Field Trip to the Minnesota Zoo
We received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mexican wolf restoration program at the Minnesota zoo, as well as meeting the large game species that can be prey to wolves.
Captive Wolves at the Ely Wolf Center
We stayed overnight at the Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, where we observed captive arctic and timber wolves. We howled for wolves in the nighttime (and received several answering howls) and also learned much about game management and ecotourism.
Winter Ecology via Snowshoe Hiking
Outside of Ely, Minnesota, we looked for wildlife signs and studied first-hand the winter ecology of the North Woods.
Winter Ecology via Dogsledding
Not every moment in the class is hard work. Here we relax in the balmy -20'F weather by dogsledding. Despite all of our noise, some of us were lucky enough to see a wild wolf run across the road as we left.
After practicing finding a radiocollar hidden near the Wolf Center, students helped a pilot find a wild pack of wolves that had also been radiocollared. Each flight of 3 students found the wolfpack, and one flight actually saw them in the trees below!
Interactive lectures alternated with discussions of Wolf Wars and technical papers on wolf biology and management. Grading is based primarily on position essays, two math assignments and a lecture quiz or two.
The course is taught from the perspective of evolutionary and community ecology as well as population dynamics. Natural resource management and biodiversity conservation are important themes that will be investigated throughout the class. Specific topics covered include, but are not limited to, evolution, conservation genetics, food webs, population growth, social systems in mammals, endangered species law, valuation philosophies of nature.
Fischer H. 1995. Wolf wars: the remarkable inside story of the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone. Falcon Press Inc., Helena MT.
Rezendes P. 1999. Tracking and the art of seeing: how to read animal tracks and sign. Harper-Collins, New York NY.