Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming
Absaroka Mountains. Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming

Unexplained patterns of grey wolf Canis lupus natal dispersal, L. David Mech, Mammal Review, First published: 01 June 2020


Natal dispersal (movement from the site of birth to the site of reproduction) is a pervasive but highly varied characteristic of life forms. Thus, understanding it in any species informs many aspects of biology, but studying it in most species is difficult. In the grey wolf Canis lupus , natal dispersal has been well studied. Maturing members of both sexes generally leave their natal packs, pair with opposite‐sex dispersers from other packs, near or far, select a territory, and produce their own offspring. However, three movement patterns of some natal‐dispersing wolves remain unexplained: 1) long‐distance dispersal when potential mates seem nearby, 2) round‐trip travels from their natal packs for varying periods and distances, also called extraterritorial movements, and often not resulting in pairing, and 3) coincidental dispersal by individual wolves from a given area in the same basic directions and over the same long distances. This perspective article documents and discusses these unexplained dispersal patterns, suggests possible explanations, and calls for additional research to understand them more clearly.

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