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What does the wolf eat? Mendel University researchers study the diet of wolves (part 2) – Brno Daily

As an alternative narrative to the story of Little Red Riding Hood, researchers at Mendel University are studying the diet of wolves. As part of our series on researching environmental issues at MENDELU, Coline Béguet of Brno Daily accompanied forest researchers to their lab. In the previous episode, we followed the specialist in large predators Miroslav Kutal during his fieldwork monitoring the presence of wolves in a Czech nature reserve, and today his colleague, the zoologist Martin Dul’a, takes us on a tour of MENDELU’s laboratory. Illustration and photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

Samples of wolf droppings collected during Kutal’s forest expeditions were brought to the laboratory of the Department of Forest Ecology at Mendel University and stored in large fridges for analysis as part of a diet study. Wolves. The wolf has returned to the Czech Republic after being missing for a century and is now a protected animal. This does not appeal to everyone, especially cattle farmers whose animals are sometimes hunted by wolves for food. It is in this context that this study attempts to better understand the hunting and feeding habits of wolves, in the hope of finding future solutions to the difficulties of cohabitation between the agricultural world and wildlife.

Each sample is photographed and entered into the National Top Predator Tracking Database with exact GPS coordinates before being carefully packaged and numbered. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

A brand new FFP2 mask is offered to me as soon as I arrive at the laboratory, and I am explained the health safety rules to follow, such as wearing gloves and not touching your face. This is not about COVID 19, but about the risk of disease transmission from wildlife to humans. Handling wolf droppings, like any wild animal, requires precautions if you don’t want to end up with, for example, a charming tapeworm a few meters long that will accompany you everywhere for years. The warning works so well that I don’t touch anything but my camera the whole time I’m there.


Samples taken in the forest by scientists and a few volunteers are then analyzed in the laboratory of the MENDELU forest ecology service. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

The first step is to “wash” the feces. This term, which may seem a little paradoxical, means that the excrement is rinsed, then passed through a fine sieve, in order to keep only the food residues of the wolves such as the hairs or bone fragments of their prey. Indeed, wolves eat all of their prey, and it is these elements that will identify the composition of the meal of the wolf. After this step, the samples are dried, then again carefully packed and numbered while waiting to be finally analyzed.

Once arrived at the laboratory, the samples are rinsed, dried and then examined to determine the prey eaten by the wolves. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

Martin Dul’a, a specialist in the ecology, management and conservation of large carnivores, begins by simply observing each excrement with the naked eye to look for clues. Sometimes certain elements make it possible to immediately identify what the wolf ate for dinner, such as a whole fawn’s hoof. On the other hand, when there are only hairs, the task is most of the time a little more difficult. With the naked eye, it is usually possible to know to which taxonomic group the animal that has been eaten belongs, but to be certain of the exact species, for example a roe deer or a deer, one must observe the hairs under a microscope.

The samples are first examined with the naked eye, then under a microscope. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

When enlarged, each animal’s hair has a different structure, different microscopic patterns. This is how Dul’a and his colleagues can identify with near certainty the diet of the animals they study. However, some hairs may look the same and sometimes it is necessary for several people to check to obtain reliable data. They use a book, always available on the laboratory table, which is a sort of dictionary of hairs, where those of each species are meticulously described and classified.

The hairs, as well as the fragments of bone or hooves, make it possible to identify the prey present in the wolf’s diet. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

Each wolf has its own dietary habits, depending on hunting opportunities and perhaps also gastronomic preferences, and therefore they do not follow exactly the same diet. Today our wolf had exceptionally eaten a hare, but his typical diet consists of an average percentage of around 95% of wild ungulates, such as wild boar, roe deer, deer or fallow deer. The remaining 5% are the smaller prey, such as rodents, those that cannot be positively identified, and rarely livestock such as sheep. The share of the latter is lower than expected, which suggests that, contrary to some public opinion, the wolf is indeed a wild animal that is part of an ecosystem and not a relic of the past surviving only at the expense of breeders. .

To know with certainty the origin of the hairs present in the stools of wolves, it is generally necessary to examine them under a microscope. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily

Predators are necessary in an ecosystem because they maintain balance. First, when they hunt, they usually attack the weakest animals, which can be useful in limiting the spread of disease in these species and paradoxically saving lives. They also help to regulate the population of their prey, which would otherwise become too abundant and weigh on the balance of nature. For example, if there are too many deer, young trees struggle to grow because the leaves are eaten as they grow. Finally, coming back to agriculture, Central Europe has a population of ungulates that tends to be overabundant, which poses a problem for forestry, as well as agricultural plantations in food destinations. So, even if they inflict agricultural damage on cattle herds, wolves perform an important service by limiting the population of ungulates, which avoids costly damage to plantations.×511.png×75.pngColine BeguetComics MagazineBrno,MENDELU,research,Science,WolvesAs an alternative narrative to the story of Little Red Riding Hood, researchers at Mendel University are studying the diet of wolves. As part of our series on researching environmental issues at MENDELU, Coline Béguet of Brno Daily accompanied forest researchers to their lab. In the…News and events in English in Brno

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