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The Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) of Isle Royale: Over-harvest, Climate Change, and the Extirpation of an Island Population


Licht, Daniel S.
Moen, Ron A.
Brown, D. Paul
Romanski, Mark C.
Gitzen, Robert A.


In the 1930s, the Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) was extirpated from Isle Royale, a 535-km2 island located in western Lake Superior, 22 km from the Ontario and Minnesota shorelines. The first half of the 20th century was a time of change on Isle Royale as Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) disappeared, Coyotes (Canis latrans) briefly appeared, Moose (Alces americanus), Grey wolves (Canis lupus), and Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) became established, and the habitat was altered by fire, logging, and over-browsing. although these changes may have contributed to the demise of the Canada Lynx, our results suggest that over-harvest was a primary cause. assuming a peak carrying capacity of 75 Canada Lynx and harvest rates comparable to those reported from 1890–1935, a population viability analysis indicated that the island population had a 0% chance of surviving 50 years. The analysis also indicated that, even in the absence of harvest, the population had only a 14% chance of persistence for 250 years. however, when 10 Canada Lynx were added to the modeled population every 10th year, the probability of persistence increased to 100%. Our analyses suggest that the island’s Canada Lynx population maintained itself by periodic immigration across an ice bridge; therefore, natural recolonization should be possible. however, the probability of ice-bridge formation has declined from 0.8 in the winter of 1958–59 to 0.1 in 2012–13, likely as a result of climate change. The Isle Royale situation exemplifies another impact of climate change and the possible need to augment populations to mitigate the loss of connectivity.