Wolf, an ally of the farmer

The wolf feeds on animals, both wild and domestic. And in some Spanish provinces, such as Asturias, there are not a few. This is positive for the conservation of natural processes and even for tourism. But mountain farmers suffer the consequences of supporting significant losses in their herds. Although there are compensations, they are perceived as insufficient and tend to come late.

Combining field data with mathematical models, we studied the complex relationship between wolves, wild boars and cattle, mediated by a chronic disease, tuberculosis. The wild boar maintains tuberculosis in the wild, and cattle are its main victim and the target species of official sanitary controls. The study indicates that the depredation of wild boar by the wolf can contribute to control of disease. The results show that the wolf contributes to regulate wild boar populations, and that this predation can lead to a marked reduction in infection.

A key finding of this research is that an animal population that harbors a serious infection can be regulated (maintained at a certain density) both by the disease itself (if there are many infected) and by predation (thus less infected). Therefore, predators such as the wolf are providing an important ecosystem service to the farmer.

Photograph of Wolf taken in the House of the Wolf, Belmonte, Asturias.

Reference: E. Tanner, A. White, P. Acevedo, A. Balseiro, J. Marcos & C. Gortázar (2019). Wolves contribute to disease control in multi-host system. Scientific Reports 9, Article number: 7940 ( www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44148-9).