The challenge of balancing life in the complex ecosystem of Isle Royale


An aerial view of the east end of Isle Royale is pictured.


Story and photos by Scot Stewart

“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity.” -  Douglas Horton

It is perfect when all the pieces of a jigsaw fit into place.  With even one piece missing it just looks terribly wrong.  The image of the ecology of Isle Royale National Park, one of the nation’s finest parks, is one of those grand puzzles, perhaps the most perfect of all in the national parks system.

Isle Royale National Park is a truly remarkable wilderness area in many ways. Located in northern Lake Superior, it is the second largest island in the Great Lakes, after Manitoulin Island in Canada. It is the third largest island in the Lower 48 after Long and South Padre Islands. It is the only U.S. national park completely closed in winter.  It hosts the longest large mammal study in the world – the wolf-moose-beaver study started in 1958 – 60 years ago.

In 1958 Durward Allen, a professor of wildlife ecology and wildlife management at Purdue University began a study of the wolf-moose relationship at Isle Royale.  Wolves had crossed over the lake on an ice bridge in in the winter of 1948-1949, bringing a controlling factor to the moose population on the island. The effects of an uncontrolled moose population on the vegetation of the island became a concern on the island shortly after they arrived around 1910. The examination of the moose-wolf relationship became a hallmark investigation in large mammals, the longest running study of its kind, and a powerful scientific study of the ”balance of nature” – the interactions of all the elements of an ecosystem, one with seemingly little interference from man…


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