Scientists discover a completely unexpected way wolves alter ecosystems

As fearsome apex predators at the top of the food chain, wolves linger in the cultural imagination as a symbol of true, dangerous wilderness.

But aside from playing on our imagination, scientists have long been believed wolves to be capable of powerfully reshaping their ecosystems through indirect interactions known as trophic cascades. But a published Friday in Science Advances reveals that this is not the only way they assert their influence on their environment.

And it has to do with one of wolves’ innate characteristics — the ability to inspire fear.

Over the course of 2015 through 2019, scientists in the used GPS collars to track 32 gray wolves in the southern boreal ecosystem of northern Minnesota.

They examined the ways in which wolves affect their ecosystem by killing a humble, yet powerful ecosystem influencer — the beaver. Beavers dramatically “engineer” their landscapes by building hundreds, or even thousands, of ponds and dams that trap trees and vegetation in streams.

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