US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, edited by L. David Mech and Luigi Boitani (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2003).


U.S. government work.


A LARGE, DARK WOLF poked his nose out of the pines in Yellowstone National Park as he thrust a broad foot deep into the snow and plowed ahead. Soon a second animal appeared, then another, and a fourth. A few minutes later, a pack of thirteen lanky wolves had filed out of the pines and onto the open hillside.

Wolf packs are the main social units of a wolf population. As numbers of wolves in packs change, so too, then, does the wolf population (Rausch 1967). Trying to understand the factors and mechanisms that affect these changes is what the field of wolf population dynamics is all about. In this chapter, we will explore this topic using two main approaches: (1) meta-analysis using data from studies from many areas and periods, and (2) case histories of key long-term studies. The combination presents a good picture-a picture, however, that is still incomplete. We also caution that the data sets summarized in the analyses represent snapshots of wolf population dynamics under widely varying conditions and population trends, and that the figures used are usually composites or averages. Nevertheless, they should allow generalizations that provide important insight into wolf population dynamics.