Many of the posts on our blog have dealt in one way or another with red wolves. Keeper Marilyn has written a detailed series on the plight of the species and the efforts to reestablish it to the wild in North Carolina. Over the last 20 years the eastern North Carolina population has increased dramatically and has become a textbook example of reintroducing an extirpated species.
Unfortunately, the only wild population of red wolves has been threatened by one of the largest wildfires in recent North Carolina history. The NC Division of Forest Resources reports that the fire has burned over 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares). Thankfully, the red wolf population appears to have escaped immediate harm but long-term ecosystem effects are still a concern.
We often think of the extinction of a species like a murder: some event or action leads to the demise of the group. For instance, you may have heard someone say that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs or global warming will wipe out polar bears. While these statements might be useful sound bites, they obscure more complicated stories that should be considered.
If you are interested in learning more about how complex interactions between environmental and physiological stresses can affect an already threatened species try reading about the catastrophic declines in Lion populations in the 1990’s in Africa. In short, epidemics of disease combined with stress from local climate changes created high mortality rates in affected populations. A disease that was widespread but rarely fatal became much more dangerous when blood-born parasites were present and droughts occurred.
A great summary of the research can be found at the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog
and the full article is at PLOS.