MAR 21, 2017 07:10 AM PDT

A revival story: Yellowstone


Most people have heard of the wolf reintroduction program that took place in Yellowstone National Park in the mid 1990s. The wolves were reintroduced in order to help manage the rising elk population, which had been overgrazing much of the park. The result was perhaps one of the most successful reintroduction programs to have existed because the presence of the wolves not only affeted the elk and moose population, but the whole ecosystem and even the physical geography itself.

When Yellowstone was originally created, there was not protection for wolves or other top predators. Because of this, government predator control programs in the early 1900s wiped out the gray wolf from Yellowstone. The last wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926. Hence their reintroduction gave biologists an incredible opportunity to study the impacts a top predator can have.

And it turns out that these impacts caused what's called a trophic cascade, where basically everything in the ecosystem was affected by the new presence of the wolves. There were fewer deer, elk, and moose because the wolves were hunting them; but additionally, their presence changed the regions where these grazers hung out, allowing re-vegetation in many places. This re-vegetation brought more bird species, more bears who eat their berries, more beavers who build their homes from the trees. This in turn sparked other animals' return: more amphibians, more small mammals, more hawks.

But the most impressive change was the way the wolves impacted the rivers. The re-vegetation caused by the wolves made river banks more solid, resulting in less erosion, fewer winding curves, and more pools - providing niches for even more wildlife. In this way, the wolves changed the physical geography of Yellowstone. Bioengineers indeed!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
NOV 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 12, 2019
These Young Seabirds Must Learn to Fly or be Eaten by Sharks
These young albatrosses must learn the official rules of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Once big enough, they will need to become as adept at flyin...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
A More Practical Theory Regarding Tabby's Star
A distant star system called KIC 8462852, also commonly known as ‘Tabby’s Star,’ has a particularly interesting reputation for dimming sp...
NOV 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 12, 2019
It's True, Elephants Are Highly Intelligent Animals
If you’re ever asked what the world’s smartest animal is, then the humble elephant should certainly come to mind. These incredible beasts have...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
SpaceX Will Need to Demonstrate a Dragon Capsule Abort for NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew initiative enabled third-party contractors such as Boeing and SpaceX to develop platforms that may be used in future crewed mi...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
Mars 2020 Rover Carries Full Weight on Wheels for First Time
NASA has been working on an advanced successor to the Martian Curiosity rover for quite some time. Dubbed the Mars 2020 rover, the upgraded SUV-sized auton...
NOV 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 12, 2019
Everything You Didn't Know About Hyenas
The humble hyena is often depicted as dim-witted, but as the scientific facts would show, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Despite the negati...
Loading Comments...