Regular readers of creation materials will know that domestic dogs, coyotes, jackals, and many others are part of the same created kind. The ancestors of this kind are a pair of wolf-like animals that came off Noah’s ark.
Wolves are apex predators. This means that they are top of their food chain, and normally only have to fear man, and possibly each other. Yet, it was not so in the beginning, when all animals lived in harmony with each other and mankind. Diets were vegetarian and all was very good (Genesis 1:29–31).
We read in the Bible that God determined the boundaries of mankind’s habitation (Acts 17:26). What about animals? The creation account of Genesis 1 distinguishes between aquatic and terrestrial creatures (with some having flight and/or swim capacity). But do they all roam free or are there restrictions to their whereabouts?
Various wolf packs in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, USA, were tracked by GPS. This was over a period of 209 days (almost 7 months) starting April 15th. Six adjacent packs show impressive territory keeping. Their border behaviour is remarkable. With few exceptions they stay well within their own neck of the woods, rarely wandering into the area controlled by another pack.1
It is known that wolves may kill wolves. In nature there is a battle for (limited) resources. It is as if the wolves know this instinctively and realise it is better to have separate hunting grounds than too many wolves concentrated in an area. The packs spread out and mark their area so other packs can smell whose territory it is; everyone is better off—apart from maybe the hunted prey lower in the food chain (but see below).
Food chains and habitat impact
Food chains normally go from small to big. That is, small things get eaten by bigger things, which get eaten by even bigger things, and so on. Apex predators, for instance wolves, are sometimes capable of killing something that is bigger than themselves (e.g., deer). They might do this individually, or in packs.
An introduction of eight grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park happened in 1995, after the last pack was killed in the 1920s.2 The idea was that the apex predator would hunt down the excess number of elks. The many elks were held responsible for over-grazing the area which caused an increase of erosion. It looks like the idea has been successful with the return of many beavers. How so?
The (re-)introduction of wolves into Yellowstone started a cascade of returning wildlife. They affected the elk population who were keen eaters of “young willow, aspen and cottonwood plants”.3 This meant good news for the beavers, who happen to like the willows too, and with more willows, the beaver numbers increased. But don’t think that the elk numbers ended up being reduced in order to make space for the beavers. Space they may have made, but it was due to the wolves keeping them on the move during winter, which allowed the willows to recover, enabling beavers to take advantage. The elk population is now said to be three times that of earlier numbers! Wolf presence appears to be causing the elks to live in smaller groups. Foraging different areas supplies more biomass for the elks to fill their bellies, instead of having to make do with small, young willows, incapable of supporting a large elk population.
The wolves also supply left-over food for small scavengers (ravens and magpies for example) and other, larger animals (like bears and coyotes).
When on vacation in Yosemite park as a boy, my brother and I built a dam in the water of the Merced River (not uncommon for the Dutch, whose country is about 25% below sea-level). Unfortunately for us, after a while the park ranger instructed us to dismantle our work because it was affecting the water flow too much.
Beavers build dams as well. Instead of just stones, they use vegetation for their construction. In erecting these barriers, they slow down the stream, and cause pools to form for other fauna to live (e.g., insects), and the flora, like the maturing willows but others too, provide a dwelling place for song birds, insects, etc.
Slowing the flow of water in combination with stronger willow trees reduces the erosion of the land the river streams through. With more stable land, grasses and flowering plants can take root, providing yet more opportunity for diversity of life.
Who would have thought that introducing apex predators—top of the food chain—would actually stimulate such biodiversity?
The wolves did not create anything, but they provided an opportunity for other (existing) life forms to move in and thrive. Earlier removal of the wolves (primarily by hunting) caused the elks to lose their main predator. It made the elks ‘lazy’, staying together and not allowing any willows to grow to maturity, which had a knock-on effect on the rest of the ecological zone. Over time it became less diverse, with more species dying or moving out. All this has been reversed by people bringing back the wolf. This is a good example of mankind’s dominion in the world that God created.
Even though the creation is no longer very good (Romans 8:22), neither is nature in utter chaos. God upholds His creation (Hebrews 1:3). There can be a nice balance, although it still contains death, an intruder. In a cursed world, there continue to be remnants of beauty that people can enjoy, as shown in Yellowstone Natural Park.
References and notes
- Earthly Mission Crew, GPS Tracking Shows How Much Wolf Packs Avoid Each Other’s Range, earthlymission.com, accessed 5 Jan 2023. Return to text.
- Peglar, T., 1995 Reintroduction of Wolves in Yellowstone, yellowstonepark.com, 13 May 2022. Return to text.
- Farquhar, B., Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem in Yellowstone, yellowstonepark.com, 30 Jun 2021. Return to text.