Movements of wolves at the northern extreme of the species' range, including during four months of darkness

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Abstract

Information about wolf (Canis lupus) movements anywhere near the northern extreme of the species' range in the High Arctic (<75°N latitude) are lacking. There, wolves prey primarily on muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) and must survive 4 months of 24 hr/day winter darkness and temperatures reaching -53 C. The extent to which wolves remain active and prey on muskoxen during the dark period are unknown, for the closest area where information is available about winter wolf movements is >2,250 km south. We studied a pack of ≥20 wolves on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada (80°N latitude) from July 2009 through mid-April 2010 by collaring a lead wolf with a Global Positioning System (GPS)/Argos radio collar. The collar recorded the wolf's precise locations at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. daily and transmitted the locations by satellite to our email. Straight-line distances between consecutive 12-hr locations varied between 0 and 76 km. Mean (SE) linear distance between consecutive locations (n = 554) was 11 (0.5) km. Total minimum distance traveled was 5,979 km, and total area covered was 6,640 km 2, the largest wolf range reported. The wolf and presumably his pack once made a 263-km (straight-line distance) foray to the southeast during 19-28 January 2010, returning 29 January to 1 February at an average of 41 km/day straight-line distances between 12-hr locations. This study produced the first detailed movement information about any large mammal in the High Arctic, and the average movements during the dark period did not differ from those afterwards. Wolf movements during the dark period in the highest latitudes match those of the other seasons and generally those of wolves in lower latitudes, and, at least with the gross movements measurable by our methods, the 4-month period without direct sunlight produced little change in movements. © 2011 Mech, Cluff.

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Mech, L. D., & Cluff, H. D. (2011). Movements of wolves at the northern extreme of the species’ range, including during four months of darkness. PLoS ONE, 6(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025328

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