Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Genetics does not justify the wolf hunt

Andreas Carlgren, Swedish Minister of the Environment, has argued that the wolf hunt will encourage the genetic revitalisation of the severely in-bred Swedish wolf population.

However, this claim is refused by Hans Ellegren, professor in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Uppsala He says that – to the contrary – if the aim is a genetic revitalisation of the Swedish wolf population, then a significant increase in their numbers is needed.“All measures to reduce the number of wolves will have a negative effect on the wolf population”“From a scientific viewpoint, the present number of 200 wolves is far too small if we want a long-term, sustainable, healthy wolf population. So any measures which reduce the number of wolves will have a negative effect on the wolf population.”

How many wolves would be needed, to establish a healthy basis?“That’s harder to say. It’s difficult to make exact predictions for a specific species. But 1,000 wolves would probably be considered a healthy group. Of course, that would presuppose an already high level of genetic variation – which is not the case with the Swedish wolves, who probably all descend from only three individuals. A couple of new individuals have immigrated, which has brought in some new blood, but that’s not enough. A much greater amount of new blood is needed, than there has been so far”, says Hans Ellegren.

His research group has been studying the Scandinavian wolf population for 15 years. Using various DNA techniques, they have measured and examined the genetic variation in the group and have observed that there is an unusually low level of genetic variation - due to the fact that the whole group descends from just a few individuals. There is extensive in-breeding.

According to the Minister of the Environment Andreas Carlgren, one of the arguments for allowing the wolf hunt is that it will encourage the genetic revitalisation of the wolf population. But Hans Ellegren cannot understand such reasoning. “I would imagine that what he (Carlgren) probably means, is that first and foremost the most in-bred individuals should be removed. And naturally, if any are to be removed at all, then it’s better to remove those, than to remove the ones with greater genetic variation. But in order to do so, then all the wolves would first have to be examined and tagged, so we could recognise each individual and see which are the ones with a higher level of genetic variation. However, it must be said that it is difficult to regulate nature in this way. For example, in the laboratory we can measure the level of genetic variation, but we cannot see whether a certain individual is the bearer of a disease that has not yet been characterised. So it would be a very rough estimate – to try to characterise the whole wolf population in advance and then pick out individuals on that basis. That seems to be a very weak argument, from a scientific viewpoint”, says Hans Ellegren.

In an international perspective, the wolf is not an endangered species. However, the prospects for the survival of the Swedish wolf population in the long term are poor. In order to save them, two measures are needed, according to Hans Ellegren.“From a strictly scientific viewpoint – because I do realise that this is a political issue with many dimensions – the two most important measures to take at present are: 1 - allow the wolf population to grow as quickly as possible, so that the numbers increase, and 2 - make sure that new blood comes in, somehow”, says Hans Ellegren, professor in evolutionary Biology at Uppsala University.

Reporter Maria Quistberg/Published Jan. 4, 2010-01-07
by: Carolyn Belgrave Rappestad © ostmediagroup X

Translated and quoted directly from the article on the website of SR International - Radio Sweden.
Read the original article in Swedish, on SR International: http://www.sr.se/cgi-bin/international/artikel.asp?Artikel=3348972

Share on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment