Inbreeding threatens Scandinavian wolves

The rate of abnormalities among Scandinavian wolves has tripled over the last three decades, scientists say. The study suggests that even though the number of wolves has risen, the animals suffer from excessive inbreeding.

After nearly going extinct in the 1960s, the wolf population in Scandinavia has begun to rebound. In 2009, the number of wolves reached 210 — by some measures, a conservation success. But the population is isolated, and the inbreeding rate “is equivalent to offspring from a full sibling mating,” the authors write in PLOS ONE.

The team assessed 171 wolves born from 1978 to 2010 for abnormalities in their vertebrae, teeth, and organs. Seventeen percent of the animals had vertebrae defects, and 16 percent of those examined for dental issues had abnormal teeth. Nine percent of the wolves who underwent organ necropsies had problems with their heart, testicles, or kidneys.

The authors estimate that the abnormality rate rose from 13 to 40 percent over the study period. To avoid more inbreeding, the population will need to boost its numbers and bring in new “immigrant” wolves. — Roberta Kwok | 27 June 2013

Source: Raikkonen, J. et al. 2013. What the inbred Scandinavian wolf population tells us about the nature of conservation. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067218.

Image © Kjetil Kolbjornsrud | Shutterstock.com

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