What is it about?

After reintroduction and recovery in Southeast Alaska, sea otters became an abundant and consistently available marine subsidy to an island population of wolves and allowed the wolves to remain at sufficient densities to deplete the local deer population. Wolves in this system have learned how to survive off marine species and demonstrates their extreme dietary plasticity and adaptability to changing environments.

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Why is it important?

Our work shows that the infusion of recently recovered sea otters provided an unanticipated alternate food source for wolves and upended predictions of predator-prey dynamics based solely on terrestrial species. While the effects of sea otter recovery on nearshore food webs have been studied, we are now beginning to learn of previously unpredicted interactions across ecosystem boundaries and consequences in terrestrial systems.


Studying wolves in coastal Alaska has underscored to me the joy of being surprised. We didn’t expect wolves to survive on a small island 8 years after they colonized it and ate all the native deer, and especially did not expect that sea otters, an apex nearshore predator would become their primary food source. What we initially thought was an errant blip in wolf behavior became a trend with ecological effects throughout the food chain, and every piece of data we collected supported this unforeseen result.

Gretchen Roffler
Division of Wildlife Conservation, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Recovery of a marine keystone predator transforms terrestrial predator–prey dynamics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209037120.
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