Change in the way of our study on the wolf breeding in Naliboki Forest, central-western Belarus

Coauthor Irina Rotenko

By this short post we would like to share some ideas in relation to the necessary changes in the way of our study on the wolf breeding in Naliboki Forest with the researchers and amateurs, who deal with that. With respect to the mentioned changes, three questions may be raised: (1) why do we need to change something in the study approach on the wolf breeding; (2) what the changes will be; and (3) which benefit we expect from the changes?

First, why we need to change something in our recent approach and design to investigate breeding in wolves in Naliboki Forest (where nowadays we live continuously and study on the wolf biology)? Before (since 1985, but mainly since 2002), while studying reproduction in wolves in Belarus,  we were a lot concentrated on the questions of population ecology such as fertility and reproductive density-dependent regulations in wolves (see Sidorovich & Rotenko, 2018, 2019). The study were mainly fulfilled in Naliboki Forest and its forest-rural surroundings on the area about 2700 square km and in the double larger terrain of Paazierre Forest.  To estimate correctly the wolf population density in these forested terrains and their less forested surroundings, each year we did a lot of efforts, and that was time- and money-consuming. Nowadays after we have got quite clear answers on those not easy questions concerning fertility and reproductive density-dependent regulations in wolves (see Sidorovich & Rotenko, 2018, 2019), we began to be more interested and concentrated on behavioural traits of wolves during breeding. Respectively, we already are not so much interested to find as many as possible active wolf dens with pups to learn litter size, sex-ratio among pups etc.

It might be useful to increase the sample size for our former study on the regulations in reproduction of wolves, but where to get enough time and money to access the wolf population density on an extensive area (i.e. the real density in the species population)? Without knowing the population density in wolves precisely enough the estimates of reproduction rate do not have much sense. Furthermore, we would like to study something new that has been really poorly investigated so far.

We have started to investigate reproductive behavior and ecology of wolves  in rather small model area about 1000 square km in Naliboki Forest with smart camera-trapping and reading wolf activity signs. Indeed, it is a worthwhile way, because breeding behavior of wolves in Europe and larger in Eurasia is still poorly known and the published results are contaminated by wrong knowledge and just beliefs of researchers.  

Concerning detailed results on  reproduction in wolves in the North America, we would like to say again that those results on the North-American wolves cannot entirely be applied to the Eurasian wolves, because in our strong point of view they look like different species similarly to the American mink and European mink or the Canadian lynx and Eurasian lynx. Very long-term isolation, evolving in strikingly distinctive environment (habitats, prey, competitors) of the wolves, relatively short-term (two centuries only) persecution by human, but almost full eradication of wolves in North America, and then hybridization of them with dogs and coyotes  make the North-American wolf actually another species. So, those results on that species are not entirely about our wolves here, surely. The already revealed strikingly  distinctive features of behavior of wolves in Europe and North America (see Sidorovich & Rotenko, 2018, 2019) suggest that.  

The above statements are basically the answer on the second question.

While taking various video of wolves at breeding we are also aimed to create a scientific film about reproductive behavior of the local wolves in the environmental conditions of Naliboki Forest. We expect that the film will be an amateur quality due to we apply simple cheap technique, but hopefully in the film there will be real complicated performance of the wild breeding wolves.  It is extra, but lovely goal on the way.

So, we gradually answered on the third question about the possible benefit of the changes in the study approach on breeding wolves. We expect new interesting knowledge about the reproductive behavior and ecology of wolves as well as much interesting visual registration of these hidden features of the species.

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