Project studies impact of wolves on Šumava forest regeneration  

Wolf in the national park of Šumava

Can the growing numbers of wolves in Czechia’s Šumava National Park have a positive impact on local forests? For the next three years, scientists from the Czech University of Life Sciences will be seeking to answer just that question, by monitoring local wolf and deer populations. 

In a famous experiment, carried out in the Yellowstone National Park in the United States in the mid-1990s, wolves were reintroduced to the area after more than a 70-year absence. By keeping the growing elk population in check, the wolves managed to revive the park’s forest, which ultimately changed the whole ecosystem of the park.

Photo: Daniela Pilařová,  Czech Radio

Czech scientists have now launched a three-year project which aims to establish whether the presence of wolves in the Šumava National Park and in the Bavarian National Park on the German side of the border could have a similar effect on the local ecosystem. Aleš Vorel from the university’s Department of Ecology explains:

“There are several approaches we will use. We will of course use the long-term data that have been collected in both national parks in Šumava and Bayerische Wald for more than two decades. But we will also add new information by monitoring the wolf populations using camera traps and GPS collars. And we will also study the grazing of the forest by the deer.”

Aleš Vorel | Photo: ČT

Wolves lived on the territory of present-day Czechia until the mid-19th century, when they were completely eradicated. They started to reappear in the 1990s, first on the country’s eastern border with Slovakia. In the past decade or so, they started to spread also into the northern and south-western Bohemia.

According to Mr. Vorel, there are currently seven wolf packs roaming the Šumava Mountains and the Bavarian National Park on the German side of the border. Scientists from the Czech University of Life Sciences, along with employees of the two national parks, will not only monitor the movement of wolves, but also the movement of their prey, he says:

Photo: Šumava National Park

“One task of our project is to see the behavioural responses of prey to the predator. We need to understand how strong a predator the wolf can be in the European ecosystem.  That’s why we will use the collars also on the deer, to establish what the relations are between these two forest species. From that information we will be able to predict the future responses of the deer to the wolf.”

At the moment, the overpopulated deer populations in the Šumava National Park are managed by hunting. According to Aleš Vorel, that might not be necessary in the future, given the return of their natural predator.

“In both national parks, the deer population is under human management. Our question is if we shouldn’t adjust the deer management based on the reappearance of wolfs in the Šumava Mountains. We believe that if the wolf population is stable and strong then there is no need to hunt the animals in the future.”