Just as much as wolves need enough food to make a living, so too do they need a little elbow room.
According to a new study out of Utah State University, having a space free of enemies is crucial to wolves' ability to rear their pups.
When wolves are crowded too closely together, the team observed, competing wolf clan members will fight with each other, often to the death. That's even if the area otherwise has plenty of food to go around.
The realization is in contrast to the general perception that wolf populations are successful only in relation to their food supply. They have to be able to steer clear of each other, too.
Lead researcher Dan MacNulty and his team tracked 280 wolves wearing radio collars, across 13 years, to try to gauge what impact wolf density and prey abundance, among other factors, had on wolf survival in Yellowstone Park.
Inside Yellowstone, where wolves are not hunted, the researches observed competing wolf packs fighting, and they reached another surprising conclusion: the pack-fighting was the single biggest cause of wolf mortality, even in places where prey was plentiful.
The net result? Wolf survival rates go down as population density goes up. Such findings may prove useful for those concerned with management of wolf populations when they intersect with humans and livestock.