Linda Rutledge, PhD, was the guest speaker at a dinner presented by the Canadian Club of Halton on September 22 to an audience of 120. Linda is a Research Associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.
Her talk “Fossils to Genomes: Protecting The Eastern Wolves of Algonquin Park” chronicled the history of wolves in Algonquin Park and explored the critical requirements for their future.
Linda says, “I live in Lakefield Ontario with my husband Dave, who is a family doctor, and our children Liam and Emma (both were born in Prince George, British Columbia where we lived for 10 years before returning to southern Ontario so that I could do my PhD), and our dog Django, a rescued Malamute/Retriever cross. I am indebted to them for all the support and sacrifices they have made over the years that allow me to be passionate about wildlife research.”
Wolves play a critical role in maintaining a healthy environment. As a top predator, they have the potential to increase biodiversity and restore natural regulation to the troubled ecosystems of eastern North America.
Algonquin Provincial Park is home to one of the most threatened wolf populations in the world. The Eastern Wolf has battled centuries of targeted eradication efforts, resulting in a restricted range (centralized in Algonquin Park) with fewer than 1,000 animals remaining.
Linked to the diminishing wolf population is the increasing deer density. Ideally there should be 4-7 deer per sq. km. but today there are 34-38 deer per sq. km. Unfortunately, deer eat everything, including trilliums, ultimately impacting the food system for predators like foxes, coyotes, wolves, hawks, etc. Eastern Wolves eat deer but there are not enough wolves to maintain the natural balance.
Linda’s research uses genetics to non-invasively track Eastern Wolves across the landscape in an effort to resolve more complete patterns of distribution and hybridization to help inform endangered species policy. She tracks these animals by examining feces, called scat, often collected for her by friends and family.
According to Linda, “We cross-country ski a lot in the winter at the Kawartha Nordic Ski Club – a really great group of people (I have members stop me on the ski trails to tell me where the wolf/coyote scat is each day). And the trail groomer is a friend who carries Ziploc bags and Sharpies in the grooming machine so that he can collect freshly deposited scat for me for my Eastern Wolf Survey research project.”
Unfortunately, human-caused mortality and hybridization with Eastern Coyotes remain the Eastern Wolves’ primary threats of extinction. However, Linda feels the trend of interbreeding is good and should be left to happen naturally rather than being considered by some as a dilution of the “pure” breed.
Professional photographer Helen Grose deserves special mention for the framed photograph of an Eastern Wolf that she took in Algonquin Park and donated to the Canadian Club of Halton for a raffle on the evening of the dinner. At Linda Rutledge’s request, the $290 in proceeds from the raffle together with a thank you donation of $500 from the Canadian Club of Halton will be donated to The Friends of Killarney Park who have been “incredibly supportive in my research program”.
Article and photos by Janet Bedford
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