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The idea of “alphas” in wolf packs is misguided, according to studies

Two wolves in the snow.

Photo: Colourbox

INN University’s Barbara Zimmermann says the mistake stems from observing wolves in captivity.

When asked, many people imagine wolf packs as very complex groups. Barbara Zimmermann, a professor at INN University who studies wolves, says this is not how it works in the wild.

Wild wolf packs often consist of a nuclear family structure and no more, she says in a new ScienceNorway article: “The adults are simply in charge because they are the parents of the rest of the pack members. We don’t talk about the alpha male, the alpha female and the beta child in a human family.”

The myth of the wolf pack hierarchy traces back to the mid-20th century, has gotten reinforced in public perception, and has affected even dog training, according to the article.

Zimmermann and her colleagues have conducted studies on wolves in Norway using GPS data. GPS data is extremely helpful when studying group dynamic, as the location of the group members in relation to one another can be closely monitored.

“More than 70 per cent of GPS positions from wolf pairs show they remain within 100 metres of each other. So they are incredibly dependent on each other,” says Zimmermann.  The Scandinavian wolf pack consists of an average of six animals – parents and their pups.

Wolf research rarely uses the alpha terminology nowadays, but the public consciousness is slower to catch up.

Read the full article by Elise Kjørstad on sciencenorway.no.