Wolves, Elk and Aspen: A Study

Laramie, WY – According to a new study published by the Ecological Society of America, wolves in Yellowstone National Park may not be helping to restore aspen stands as originally thought.

Previous research claimed that wolves in the park discouraged elk from eating aspen. But Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit leader and co-author of the new study, Matt Kauffman, says that may not be true.

"We're basically refuting that possibility and instead arguing that the effect that wolves may have on aspen populations will come about because of their direct predation on elk and their reduction of elk numbers, not scaring elk away from particularly risky aspen stands."

Kauffman says the elk population in Yellowstone has decreased by 40-percent since wolves were reintroduced in 1995. However, the aspen population continues to decline. He says aspen provide habitat for birds and insects, which is important to the area's ecosystem.

The study appears in this month's edition of the journal Ecology.