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On the prowl: Dr. Dennis Murray studies predator/prey relationships

Dr. Dennis Murray, Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Ecology, is fascinated by wolves. So much so that he regularly howls into the night on his Buckhorn-area property to see if he will be answered by any members of the local lupine population.

On a few occasions, Dr. Murray has been successful, and the answering calls of wolves have been just a few hundred feet from his back door. He smiles as he recounts these experiences, and it is obvious that he feels a connection to the animals that form the backbone of his current research projects.

Dr. Murray is studying wolves in Algonquin Park and has already placed radio collars on at least 30 animals. "The aim is to determine if there is a sustainable population in Algonquin," explains Dr. Murray. "I am examining if there is enough prey, and what species they rely on for prey."

There are various forces that can limit or regulate animal numbers, including factors like parasites, the non-lethal effects of predators on prey fitness, and the response of herbivores to plant defences. Dr. Dennis Murray believes these issues must be more fully addressed if we are to better understand the potential for sustainability at the species, population and ecosystem levels.

Through his work at Trent University, Dr. Murray will focus on the effects of predators and parasites on animal condition, behaviour, survival and productivity, and how such effects may be manifested numerically through population change. Dr. Murray’s work with the Algonquin wolf population builds on research he has conducted with the red wolves of North Carolina, as well as gray wolves in the western United States and in Alberta’s Banff National Park.

"I was first involved with wolves at the University of Idaho. In 1996 Alberta wolves were released there to re-establish a local population," explains Dr. Murray, who came to Trent in late 2002 from the University of Idaho.

Looking down the road, Dr. Murray is excited about the possibility of developing a centre for the study of wildlife diseases and parasites, and feels Trent would be the perfect home.

He is pleased with what Trent has to offer: "There is potential for collaboration and good research with the MNR, and with excellent faculty at the University. I believe the Chair will be a success because of that."

Posted March 3, 2003

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March 10, 2003