Mech On Wolves

Mech originally characterized the “Alpha” pattern of behavior, and has subsequently (over the last forty years) modified this considerably. Science does indeed progress.

However, I hasten to point out that this is a case of inverted skepticism. The change in how we view animal behavioral biology since the 1960s to now has changed in all areas. Rumors that Mech is doing something odd here are clearly overstated. This is run of the mill progress of science.

Hat top: UO

Comments

  1. #1 sailor
    August 24, 2009

    So are we sure that at sometime in the past wolves did not roam in much bigger packs, and they just down to family groups because of being hunted and habitat availability?

  2. #2 sailor
    August 24, 2009

    Another point – even if you just have old daddy wolf, when you get a big litter the pups are certainly going to sort themselves into a hierarchy in which there will be a dominant members. Dogs certainly do and if the hierarchy fails, you can get a lot of squabbling.

  3. #3 travc
    August 24, 2009

    Is there any good reason not to use the term ‘patriarch’?

  4. #4 Anne Gilbert
    August 25, 2009

    sailor and trac:

    Wolves are complex animals, and wolf packs are complex systems. Some packs grow fairly large before they split up, so a wolf pack may “normally” consist of 7-15 animals. However, wolves eat a lot, and sooner or later, a pack will have to split. This is even more complicated by the fact that among wolves(and also among coyotes, which actually do form packs in undisturbed environments), there are “abiders” who stay with the pack, and “dispersers” who strike out on their own, to a “wolfless” territory. This is risky, because a “lone” wolf like this has less chance of surviving. However, if s/he does managed to survive and find a suitable territory, and finds mate, generally another “disperser”, the two of them will become the “breeding pair”, and raise another pack. That’s how wolves operate. I think David Mech knew this all along, but was influenced in the 1970’s, in part, by some of the work that was then going on in primatology, where at least in some primates, there are definite “dominance hierarchies”, although even there, the “dominance hierarchies” aren’t quite what they seem to be. Even when Mech began his studies, there were people who preferred to call the “alphs” something like “the mated pair”. Which is essentially, as Mech pointed out, what they are.
    Anne G

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    August 25, 2009

    Anne of course is right, but I’ll add this: The term “alpha” was not originally meant to be used (in baboons, some other primates, and some other animals) as it has come to be used.

    Agonistic ranking is simply a measurement, and it is linear and there are no ties. So every individual is in a slot, from alpha to beta on down. This is like weighing animals. Animal’s weights may matter to a lot of biological systems, but perhaps in a complex way. But the weight is just a number, and really, so is the ranking thing (alpha, beta, etc).

    Alpha-Beta ranking is not a system of behavior, it is a measurement that then can be used quite effectively. Even in the early days of primatology, the alpha-beta system was NOT used to show that there is an “alpha” primate that always got its way. Rather, there were individuals ranked in order, and in most cases, a coalition of the medium ranked individuals got THEIR way, but even then, things were complex. No one ever characterized savanna baboons as having a chicken-like pecking order.

    If mech was doing that back then with wolves, he was misinterpreting the contemporary primate data. And getting the wolves wrong. His book is around here somewhere, I suppose I should have a look….

  6. #6 Monado
    August 25, 2009

    I got the impression from reading “The Hidden Life of Dogs” that it takes a whole pack to raise a litter of puppies, that is to bring in enough food for them. So the other dogs or wolves do not usually breed and any second litter is killed.

  7. #7 Anne Gilbert
    August 27, 2009

    Monado:

    There are circumstances where wolf packs will have two, or if David Mech is correct, three females bearing pups. This apparently happenedf in Yellowstone when wolves were first reontroduced. There was at least one pack that had something like a total of 19 pups(I remember being real surprised when I read this, but my recollection of how \manytotal pups were born may not be accurate). There were twomoms in that pack. And the adults apparently worked very hard to feed them all. This is rather unusual, but it happens. It usually happens in situations such as Yellowstone, where they were reintroduced. Even so, most of the pops will die of natural causes before they are a year old. However, “second litters” aren’t killed. At least not by wolves in the wild. and where territories are full of wolves, so to speak, there’s usually only one mated pair per pack. After all, there’s only so much wolf food out there. . . .so ecologically, one mated pair per pack makes a lot of sense. But they don’t kill second litters, if such thngs happen. That, after all, would help the spread of wolfkind, so to speak.
    Anne G