The wolves of Isle Royale
About the project

What you need to know

For seven weeks each winter, we live on Isle Royale National Park, a remote island wilderness in Lake Superior, North America. Here we follow the lives of a population of wolves and moose that inhabit the island. We observe them from a small airplane – detailing their survival, reproduction, social behaviors, and predation. Each time we observe wolves kill a moose, and after they finish feeding from the carcass and leave, then we snowshoe to these kill sites to perform a necropsy on the moose and collect wolf scats that have been deposited around the site. The necropsy tells us about the impact of wolf predation on the moose population. We collect wolf scats because they contain DNA. By analyzing that DNA, we learn the sex, identity, age, level of inbreeding, and heritage of each wolf in the population. DNA analysis is critical for understanding the wolves of Isle Royale.

Although we collected about 100 wolf scat samples during Winter Study 2012, funding limitations have made it impossible to analyze the DNA. The need for DNA analysis is greater than ever. When we last conducted DNA analysis (winter 2010) we discovered that the wolf population included no more than two adult females. If those females die before giving birth to more females, then the population will be destined to extinction. DNA analysis will tell us how many females are in the population, and whether any pups survived the year.

Why this matters

Scientifically and culturally, Isle Royale wolves are one of the most important wolf populations in the world ( The Isle Royale wolf-moose project is the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. The wolves of Isle Royale have taught many lessons about the complexity, intricacy, and the role of chance events in nature. For example, though it’s common knowledge now, Isle Royale is where we first learned that wolves have a strong tendency to kill weak, vulnerable prey. Isle Royale wolves have also taught us how ravens scavenging wolf-killed moose give wolves a reason to live in packs – a behavior that is generally rare among predators.

Some knowledge helps us do things, like conserve nature, restore nature, and live sustainably. Some knowledge also generates a sense of wonder about the world in which we live – knowledge that motivates us to care about nature. The wolves of Isle Royale regularly provide us with both kinds of knowledge. Help us learn what the wolves of Isle Royale have to teach us.

What your money can do

The funding we receive is necessary to conduct laboratory analyses on the DNA contained in the scats we collect from Isle Royale wolves. These costs include the time of the laboratory technician who analyses the samples and chemical supplies necessary to conduct the analysis. The cost of this analysis is approximately $100 per scat sample. With the funding necessary for this project we will be able to analyze 100 samples. From those samples, we will learn the sex, identity, age, level of inbreeding, and heritage of each wolf in the population – each piece of this information is critical for understanding the wolves of Isle Royale. If this project were to raise additional funds, they would be used to help support other aspects of the wolf-moose project, such as our intern program and our annual winter field season.

Potential discoveries

This project will either be a remarkably detailed case study of how a population goes extinct (if that’s what happens), or it will be a remarkably detailed case study of how a scientifically and culturally important wolf population comes back from the edge of extinction. More specifically, this project will: (i) reveal the number of female wolves in the population, (ii) detect whether any wolves, male or female, immigrate from the mainland and infuse the population with new, outbred genes, (iii) determine whether any new wolf pups survived to see their first winter and become recruited into the population, and (iv) reveal the whether the population has suffered more than the expected amount of genetic deterioration.


John Vucetich (Associate Professor) and Rolf Peterson (Research Professor), both of Michigan Technological University, have a combined experience of 60 years working with the wolves of Isle Royale National Park. Between these two researchers, they have co-authored more than 150 technical papers, primarily on topics of wolf and moose ecology, conservation genetics, and conservation ethics. They serve governments, NGOs, universities, and scientific societies throughout the northern hemisphere in the service of wolf and moose conservation and conservation ethics. In July 2008, Senator Carl Levin entered, into the United States Congressional record, a statement of gratitude for our contributions to the Isle Royale wolf-moose project.

Thursday May 24, 2012

Hello again!

This is a final friendly reminder that if you haven't already given us your contact information, please email us now so that we can show you our appreciation for your support! If you want your gift or if you just want future research updates, please be sure to email us at We'll get the necessary information from you once we hear from you.

Again, this is a final notice. Thanks so much for your support!

-The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Team

Thursday May 17, 2012
Backer only update
Tuesday May 15, 2012
Backer only update
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This project was successful!
$10 +
Research update and (if you like) your name listed among our donors in our annual report.
$25 +
Set of five photographic postcards of Isle Royale wolves and moose. Photos taken by the Principle Investigators.
$50 +
Fortunate Wilderness, a feature length documentary of the Isle Royale wolf-moose project.
$100 +
T-shirt with Isle Royale wolf-moose logo and set of five postcards depicting watercolors by co-Principle Investigator Rolf Peterson.
$250 +
Photographic print of an Isle Royale wolf, autographed by the photographer and co-Principle Investigator, John Vucetich, suitable for framing.
$500 +
Autographed copy of A Broken Balance by the author and co-Principle Investigator, Rolf Peterson.
$1,000 +
2 BACKERS SOLD OUT (0 of 2 remaining)
Minongers, a 30” x 40-1/8” lithograph depicting the skulls of an Isle Royale wolf and moose, by world-renowned artist, Gendron Jensen. For details, see
$2,500 +
0 BACKERS • Limited Reward (2 of 2 remaining)
A radio collar once worn by an Isle Royale wolf and a short bibliography of that wolf’s life; PLUS, a 30-minute Skype meeting with the Principle Investigators, John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson, to talk all about wolves and moose.
and 135 others