Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2738. Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction: Madagascar Bamboo Lemur Dying Out

By Rolf Schuttenhelm, Bits of Science, October 29, 2017
Madagascar bamboo lemur threatened climate change
Madagascar’s greater bamboo lemur – a lemur species that evolved special teeth (see right side of the image) to cut and chaw through very strong bamboo fibers. According to the IUCN only about 500 greater bamboo lemurs remain, scattered across a thinning stretch of bamboo forest. This bamboo forest, in turn, is threatened by prolonged droughts as a direct consequence of global climate change, a new study warns – increasing the extinction risk of this already critically endangered primate.
When you’re looking at the effects of climate change on the forests of Africa, you may be inclined to overlook Madagascar, the continent’s largest island. But especially when biodiversity is your concern, it deserves special attention.
In fact, Madagascar has more endemic-only tree species than any other African country. And although the Congo Basin – Africa’s tropical rainforest heartland – is rich in iconic primates like the chimpanzee, bonobo, and gorilla, Madagascar is the single home of a uniquely separate clade of primates called ‘lemurs’, which evolved independently from monkeys and apes.
Now deforestation, followed by habitat deterioration, are a major threat to different lemur species – with climate change taking aim at the largest of the ‘bamboo lemurs’, a new study warns Madagascar’s greater bamboo lemur – of which only about 500 individuals remain.
Under forces of tectonic rifting Madagascar separated from the African mainland in the Jurassic Period, about 110 million years ago – starting a separate evolutionary path for much of Biology.
Madagascar lies much further to the South than the Congo Basin, Africa’s only large remaining tropical rainforest, and therefore only receives seasonal monsoon rains, while the southern part of the island is actually subtropical. But although similar latitudes in southern Africa are really arid (including the Kalahari desert of Botswana), it’s position in the Indian Ocean adds sufficient extra moisture supply to give the island a lush vegetation, especially along it’s eastern coast, where a special type of rainforest grows – the ‘Madagascar humid forests’.
These East-Madagascan lowland rainforests are a biodiversity hotspot of global significance, included in WWF’s Global 200 ‘list of outstanding ecoregions’– with very unique biodiversity, both in flora and fauna.
A bit inland of these coastal rainforests, tall bamboo species dominate the vegetation, giving rise to actual bamboo forest – bamboo that despite being difficult to digest, low in nutrients, and containing dangerous amounts of cyanide, became the single food source for bamboo lemurs.
Five bamboo lemurs species remain today, several of which are critically endangered. One other similar species, the greater bamboo lemur, is now considered to belong to yet another genus, called Prolemur – of which it is the only living example.
This primate species, also known as the broad-nosed bamboo lemur or the broad-nosed gentle lemur, is the heaviest almost-exclusive bamboo feeder of Madagascar, at about 2.5-kilogram weight. It primarily eats the tall bamboo species Cathariostachys madagascariensis, in which it can jump from stem to stem.
What’s special about this bamboo lemur is that it doesn’t just taste bamboo, it actually eats it – whole. And that’s a rare trait, for any mammal. Or as ecologists from an international research group led by the University of Helsinki phrase it:
“Only two mammals, the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in Asia and the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) in Madagascar, consume the nutritionally poor and mechanically challenging culm or trunk of woody bamboos.”
These researchers just published a study in Current Biology that focuses on the greater bamboo lemur, its food preferences and also its outlook in a shrinking habitat under a changing climate:
Although paleontological evidence shows that historically this lemur species was widespread across Madagascar; IUCN’s Red List states that today there are just 500 greater bamboo lemurs left, scattered over 11 subpopulations in an elongated and rapidly thinning stretch of bamboo forest in eastern Madagascar – calling it one of the world’s 25 most critically endangered primate species.
Now like other remaining forests south of the African equator, also the bamboo forests of Madagascar will face prolonged droughts under the influence of global climate change. And for this diminishing population of highly specialised primates that might be too much to swallow.
The authors of the new study call bamboo lemurs Madagascar’s ecological equivalent of the giant panda, as it also feeds exclusively on bamboo. And bamboo, they add, is an acquired taste – as it costs almost as much energy to chew and digest as eventually, it gives back when its carbohydrates are oxidized.
This is a balancing act that Madagascar’s greater bamboo lemurs, just like China’s giant panda, evolved to master – but it’s a balance that may flip over, once the quality of the bamboo deteriorates as a result of a lengthening dry season. More specifically the availability of the more nutritious sprouts would be limited to a smaller seasonal time frame, forcing the lemurs to survive on the low-caloric bamboo stems for longer times.
“The results show that culm feeding is restricted to the months of August to November. Shoot feeding begins abruptly with the full onset of the rainy season, and shoots are the primary diet when rainfall exceeds 250 mm/month. The distinct pattern of feeding either on shoots or culm was reported for the same locality 10 years previously, suggesting robust feeding patterns.”
The authors then link to the lemur’s Asian ecological equivalent, referring to described nutritional challenges for the giant panda:
“In China, compounded with human-caused deforestation, changing climate has been suggested to affect bamboo distribution in the 21st century, thereby causing food shortage for the giant panda. Our data suggest that rapidly changing climate may also endanger bamboo feeders in a subtle way by affecting the seasonal availability of preferred bamboo parts, and the giant panda may be similarly vulnerable. Southwestern Madagascar is devoid of P. simus fossil localities, and it also has the longest and the shortest projected durations of dry-season and wet-season feeding, respectively.”
When net energy expenditure rises nutritional balance becomes a matter of life or death, the authors warn, again pointing to the panda – using tooth wear as an indicator of extinction risk:
“Overall, the projected lengthening of the dry-season feeding period would cause prolonged usage of bamboo culm and other mechanically demanding and drier plants, which in addition to nutritional challenges can be predicted to increase the rate of tooth wear, leading to loss in dental function and premature dental senescence. In wild giant pandas, which are obligate bamboo specialists, tooth wear is prevalent, and poor dental condition has been found in dead animals.”
Climate change is an overlying ecological stressor, also threatening remote populations:
“In comparison to human-induced habitat loss directly driving populations to extinction, climate change drives prolongation of the dry season. Hence, P. simus populations in both protected and unprotected areas would be affected, suggesting that protecting the existing habitats might not be enough to guarantee the continued existence at the face of ongoing climate change.”
“Increasing dryness of bamboo would most likely threaten all bamboo specialists, despite their physiological adaptations to have low daily energy expenditure and to cope with chemical defenses of bamboo.”
Climate change is rarely a single killer. But when it acts synergistically with other stressors, it can simply push species over the edge. Here’s just one example – one species, one single mechanism. Now try to multiply for all species in all biomes that experience changes in temperature and rainfall, and a cascade of ecological effects, some immediate and some very slow, in all their surrounding ecosystems.
It is really hard to predict such developments. But sometimes a single case can help develop a sense. Direct habitat destruction may be worse – but climate change is definitely a factor in the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction.

2737. Record Surge in Atmospheric CO2 Seen in 2016

By Matt McGrath, BBC, October 30, 2017
Greenhouse gasses pollution in Ontario, Canada.  

Concentrations of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Last year's increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.
Researchers say a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years.
Scientists say this risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable.
This year's greenhouse gas bulletin produced by the WMO is based on measurements taken in 51 countries. Research stations dotted around the globe measure concentrations of warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
The figures published by the WMO are what's left in the atmosphere after significant amounts are absorbed by the Earth's "sinks", which include the oceans and the biosphere.
2016 saw average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million, up from 400ppm in 2015.
"It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network," Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO's global atmosphere watch programme, told BBC News.
"The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998, and it was 2.7ppm; and now it is 3.3ppm. It is also 50% higher than the average of the last 10 years."

Chart showing carbon dioxide concentrations have reached record levels

El Niño impacts the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by causing droughts that limit the uptake of CO2 by plants and trees.
Emissions from human sources have slowed down in the last couple of yearsaccording to research, but according to Dr Tarasova, it is the cumulative total in the atmosphere that really matters as CO2 stays aloft and active for centuries.
Over the past 70 years, says the report, the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 100 times larger than it was at the end of the last ice age.
Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other gases have the potential, according to the study, to "initiate unpredictable changes in the climate system... leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions".

AirImage copyrightANTHONY DUBBER
Image captionThe British Antarctic Survey Halley base was one of the stations where atmospheric measurements were made

The study notes that since 1990 there has been a 40% increase in total radiative forcing. That's the warming effect on our climate of all greenhouse gases.
"Geological-wise, it is like an injection of a huge amount of heat," said Dr Tarasova.
"The changes will not take 10,000 years, like they used to take before; they will happen fast. We don't have the knowledge of the system in this state; that is a bit worrisome!"
According to experts, the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene Epoch. The climate then was 2-3C warmer, and sea levels were 10-20m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets.
Other experts in the field of atmospheric research agreed that the WMO findings were a cause for concern.

droughtImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDroughts related to El Niño, such as this one in Colombia, limited the ability of plants and trees to soak up carbon

"The 3ppm CO2 growth rate in 2015 and 2016 is extreme - double the growth rate in the 1990-2000 decade," Prof Euan Nisbet from Royal Holloway University of London, UK, told BBC News.
"It is urgent that we follow the Paris agreement and switch rapidly away from fossil fuels. There are signs this is beginning to happen, but so far the air is not yet recording the change."
Another concern in the report is the continuing, mysterious rise of methane levels in the atmosphere, which were also larger than the average over the past 10 years. Prof Nisbet says there is a fear of a vicious cycle, where methane drives up temperatures which in turn releases more methane from natural sources.

air samplesImage copyrightWMO
Image captionScientists handling air samples at the Cape Grim monitoring station in Australia

"The rapid increase in methane since 2007, especially in 2014, 2015, and 2016, is different. This was not expected in the Paris agreement. Methane growth is strongest in the tropics and sub-tropics. The carbon isotopes in the methane show that growth is not being driven by fossil fuels. We do not understand why methane is rising. It may be a climate change feedback. It is very worrying."
The implications of these new atmospheric measurements for the targets agreed under the Paris climate pact are quite negative, say observers.
"The numbers don't lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.
"We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency."
The report has been issued just a week ahead of the next instalment of UN climate talks, in Bonn. Despite the declaration by President Trump that he intends to take the US out of the deal, negotiators meeting in Germany will be aiming to advance and clarify the rulebook of the Paris agreement.

2736. AFL-CIO Resolution Calls for a Break With the "Lesser-Evil" Politics

By John Wojcik and Mark Grunberg, People's World, October 25, 2017
AFL-CIO convention delegates went out into St. Louis neighborhoods to door-knock for a Right to Work education campaign. | AFL-CIO
ST. LOUIS – The AFL-CIO convention here passed yesterday a political resolution that calls for a break with “lesser of two evil politics” but came up short when it comes to projecting a clear path to how that will be accomplished.

“The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils,” reads the main political resolution passed Tuesday by the AFL-CIO convention delegates. Lee Saunders, chair of the AFL-CIO’s political committee and president of AFSCME, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, introduced the resolution. They lead the labor federation’s two largest unions. Convention managers yoked the resolution to another measure it also approved discussing a labor party, though not by name.

“For decades the political system has failed working people,” Weingarten said. “Acting on behalf of corporations and the rich and powerful, the political system has been taking away, one after another, the pillars that support working people’s right to good jobs and secure benefits.”

The two measures, adopted October 24, followed a late Monday-evening meeting of supporters of reviving the Labor Party idea. It attracted about 50 delegates to an upstairs meeting room at the convention’s lead hotel. Their contention: Both the Democrats and the Republicans are under corporate domination.

The prime mover of a Labor Party motion at the convention, Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein, has been calling for such a new formation since the passage of NAFTA in 1993, which he said showed both Democrats and Republicans were in the pockets of the corporate class.

Dimondstein made many of the same arguments for a Labor Party on the convention floor that he voiced in the meeting the night before, when Baldemar Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Mark Dudzic of Labor’s Committee for Single Payer, and Donna DeWitt, former president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, joined him.

Meeting participants differed over whether the nascent party should first build an organization and concentrate on issues, or get into political races, running the risk of becoming “spoilers” in the current political system, rigged in favor of the two existing parties.

“We had a vision to build a party of the working class. You have to have the labor movement at the table from the beginning,” of the effort, “or you’re building sand castles,” Dudzic explained. He was a leader in the original Labor Party effort of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Participants in the meeting agreed. “We cannot build a party of labor when the working class is in retreat,” he added. The question was how to move forward.
“We have to crawl before we walk, we have to walk before we run and we have to run before we sprint,” one attendee, Professional and Technical Engineers President Greg Junemann, said.

Velasquez contended pro-Labor Party members should participate in electoral politics, but starting at the local and state levels. But all agreed, as he put it, the Democrats “are not doing us any favors, never have and never will.”

Several unions meanwhile drew delegates to another meeting off the main convention floor – a meeting of Labor for Our Revolution. Seven national unions called on their member delegates to attend that meeting Monday, across the street from the convention hall to, in their words, continue the movement that grew out of the Sanders challenge in last year’s Democratic primaries.

The unions that called that meeting were the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Postal Workers Union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, the Communications Workers of America, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, and the United Electrical Workers. They were joined by the Massachusetts and South Carolina AFL-CIOs.

The Our Revolution organization they are backing claims more than 300 local chapters in the US and four state-wide chapters in Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maryland.
Communications Workers of America previous president Larry Cohen is the chair of Our Revolution and has been asking union leaders to become part of the local groups.
Rand Wilson, a leader in SEIU’s Local 888, is a steering committee member for Labor for Our Revolution. He explained at the group’s meeting here that unions getting involved in Our Revolution gives labor the ability to influence it so it has significant focus on the working class. “It also gives us the opportunity to organize our own members around broad, working class issues,” he said.

The group is pushing a number of bills in Congress including Medicare for All and Free College tuition.

The AFL-CIO is not actually pulling the plug on the Democrats, although their politics resolution, which doesn’t mention the party by name, is a clear warning to Democrats that labor support will not be taken for granted.  The labor leaders who introduced the independent politics resolution, Saunders and Weingarten, are both members of the Democratic National Committee.  The main resolution declared that for the 2018 elections labor would “define a pro-worker agenda…to hold as a joint standard for all officials, regardless of party.”

That resolution also commits the federation to establish a communications framework to send the agenda to unions and their allies, “prioritize year-round member-to-member communication” and greater internal organizing, mobilizing non-union workers and opposing suppression of union, young, old, female and minority-group voters.

The Labor Party supporters at the convention made the argument that the massive grassroots mobilization for the Democratic presidential primary candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and the later GOP triumph of Donald Trump – powered in part by defecting working class voters in key Great Lakes states – “showed the working class is done with the status quo.” Dimondstein made that point in both the upstairs session and on the convention floor. Sanders drew tens of thousands of union volunteers and many more union voters.

“We can’t take half a loaf, a quarter of a loaf, an eighth of a loaf, or even crumbs,” Dimondstein added.

He received applause when he pointed out on the convention floor that even when the Democrats gained total control of the presidency and Congress, in the 2008 election, they not only didn’t follow through on labor law reform and other top progressive and worker priorities, but instead produced the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” pact and similar measures. “The Democratic Party was not delivering anything,” he said, “even when it had control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate.”

The Republicans entrenched union-busting, Democratic President Bill Clinton deregulated Wall Street, and Democratic President Jimmy Carter deregulated trucking, Dimondstein said.

Constructing a Labor Party, Dimondstein admitted, will be a long-range project and needs both community and labor support. “What would be wrong would be to confine this movement” for a Labor Party “to the institution of the two-party system.”

“Continuing to follow the same model, expecting a different result, is not a solution,” a delegate from Vermont said in the meeting.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

2735. Race, Land, and an Urgent Journey

By Steven Johnson, Ecological Commonwealth, December 9, 2016
A Scottish Lowland farm from John Slezer'Prospect of Dunfermline, published in the Theatrum Scotiae, 1693
I learned fairly recently, from reading Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, that my own ancestors, the Scots-Irish, were Scottish peasants who, after being violently uprooted from their own lands and land-based communal ways, became rootless “foot soldiers of empire,” helping to conquer others’ lands, in Ireland and North America.
And I wondered, why didn’t we ever hear about the earliest part of this story growing up? Why were all the stories about Columbus, the Pilgrims, George Washington, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett…? Why did “history” – not the academic subject, but the story we were taught to live in and celebrate – focus entirely on settler-colonizers, and not on peoples who were uprooted from their own lands, including my own ancestors, who have been kept nameless to me, abiding in a fog of historical oblivion?
Two things dawned on me. First, to advance the aims of the empire and its ruling elites, the heroes in the story that people are induced to tell must be those who furthered conquest and exploitation, in order to justify continued conquest and exploitation. The conquered, on the other hand, must be denied historical personality. Their story must be effectively erased from social memory, because, otherwise, it would expose the illegitimacy of the social order that keeps the elites in their privileged position. We might then rediscover the possibility of truly INHABITING places – tenderly caring for and regenerating the bioregion that sustains us, and living in balance. Such a discovery would deeply threaten the global capitalist empire, because it directly contradicts that world order’s rootless exploit-and-move-on approach to land and resources that concentrates “wealth” (but not true well-being) in elites at the top.
Second, the dispossession of peasants in Europe, centuries ago, is a gaping, untreated wound that continues to affect my kin and me, and “white people” in general, in all sorts of ways of which we are not aware. The pathologies have been, and continue to be, transmitted from generation to generation. And the erasure of this primordial cataclysm, from the origins story we were raised to consider our own, only gives it more power over us. We walk, we act, we destroy, influenced by the pain of wounds that we do not recognize as such, that have no name, that come from nobody knows where. We have no true home, but fail to recognize or name that problem, because we’ve long forgotten what it even means to live at home – that is to say, to live in mutually beneficial relationships with our human and nonhuman neighbors in the web of life, on a land base.
Since the dispossession of our ancestors, over our centuries-long career as rootless conquerors, my fellow “white people” and I have accumulated wealth derived from the robbery of lands and the labor-power of slaves. This wealth has gone disproportionately to just a few of us – capitalists at the top. The rest of us, over most of this time, lived in conditions that, notwithstanding our relative privilege, still qualified, objectively, as misery. But, through systemic racism, we were bribed with just enough social and economic privilege, relative to and over others, to keep us from uniting with the more severely oppressed classes and peoples to overthrow the unjust system, and redistribute land and other productive resources equitably to all.
More recently, since the dawn of the age of cheap fossil fuels, and especially since the post-World War II economic boom, our racially privileged access to education, and managerial and professional careers, combined with the U.S.’s post-war position as the principal power towards which global imperialist wealth transfers flow, have greatly increased whites’ advantage over others, and given us unprecedented material affluence. This has made us walk with our chests out, as Malcolm X observed. We feel like we are gods walking the earth. And we insist that we are entitled to this, greatly underestimating the role that robbery and exploitation have played, and greatly exaggerating the role of our own ingenuity and effort, in building our wealth.
As humans are generally prone to do, we assume that how things have been since our own childhood to the present day is how things will, or should, always be, not realizing how ephemeral and fragile the conditions of this brief historical moment really are. We have partaken of forbidden fruit. In our folly, we took a devil’s promise at his word that we would be as gods. But our fall is near, because our imbalanced, exploitative, and unjust ways – the true nature of which is obscured by the false stories we tell ourselves about “progress” – are destroying the very fabric of life without which human communities cannot be sustained. Conditions we imagined would be eternal are really a bubble, and it has popped. We have dropped out of that bubble into a free fall, without even knowing it, while dragging the whole world with us. And the cushion of privilege that we hold beneath us will not be remotely enough to soften the crash.
My fellow white settlers and I must reach into the fog, bring into conscious awareness the lost history that set us on destructive paths, and treat the wound that was inflicted on us. And we must recognize the mistakes that our ancestors and we have made since then, make reparations for the wounds that were thereby inflicted on others, work together with others to establish equitable access to land and other productive resources for all, and decisively break the pattern of robbery and exploitation that is destroying ecosystems and keeping people in misery. We won’t likely accomplish any of these goals unless we pursue them all. They are the essential, intertwined tasks that are upon us.
As the fabric of life is daily torn to shreds, at ever-accelerating rates, we haven’t a moment to lose.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

2734. Why Some Wolves Became Dogs?

By James Gorman, The New York Times, October 13, 2017
Photo: White Wolf Pack
NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement.

At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves.

When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones. But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well.

Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction. No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.The scientific consensus is that dogs evolved from some kind of extinct wolf 15,000 or more years ago. Most researchers now think that it wasn’t a case of snatching a pup from a den, but of some wolves spending more time around people to feed on the hunters’ leftovers. Gradually some of these wolves became less afraid of people, and they could get closer and eat more and have more puppies, which carried whatever DNA made the wolves less fearful. That repeated itself generation after generation until the wolves evolved to be, in nonscientific terms, friendly. Those were the first dogs.

People must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end with wolf puppies just to assure them that humans are tolerable. Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Despite all the similarities, something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is.
There are clues.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

Another idea being studied is whether a delay in development during a critical socializing period in a dog’s early life could make the difference. That delay might be discovered in the DNA, more likely in the sections that control when and how strongly genes become active, rather than in the genes themselves.

This is research at its very beginning, a long shot in some ways. But this past spring and summer, two scientists traveled to Quebec to monitor the development of six wolf pups, do behavior tests and take genetic samples. I followed them.

I visited other captive wolves as well, young and adult, to get a glimpse of how a research project begins — and, I confess, to get a chance to play with wolf puppies.

I wanted to have some firsthand experience of the animals I write about, to look wolves in the eye, so to speak. But only metaphorically. As I was emphatically told in a training session before going into an enclosure with adult wolves, the one thing you definitely do not do is look them in the eye.

Sleeping With Wolves
Zoo Académie is a combination zoo and training facility here on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence River, about two hours from Montreal. Jacinthe Bouchard, the owner, has trained domestic and wild animals, including wolves, all over the world.

This past spring she bred two litters of wolf pups from two female wolves and one male she had already at the zoo. Both mothers gave birth in the same den around the same time at the beginning of June. Then unusually bad flooding of the St. Lawrence threatened the den, so Ms. Bouchard had to remove them at about seven days old instead of the usual two weeks.
Then began the arduous process of socializing the pups. Ms. Bouchard and her assistant stayed day and night with the animals for the first few weeks, gradually decreasing the time spent with them after that.

On June 30, Kathryn Lord and Elinor Karlsson showed up with several colleagues, including Diane Genereux, a research scientist in Dr. Karlsson’s lab who would do most of the hands-on genetics work.

Dr. Lord is part of Dr. Karlsson’s team, which splits time between the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the Broad Institute in Cambridge. Their work combines behavior and genetic studies of wolf and dog pups.

An evolutionary biologist, Dr. Lord is an old hand at wolf mothering. She has hand-raised five litters.

“You have to be with them 24/7. That means sleeping with them, feeding them every four hours on the bottle, ” Dr. Lord said.

Also, as Ms. Bouchard noted, “we don’t shower” in the early days, to let the pups get a clear sense of who they are smelling.

That’s very important, because both wolves and dogs go through a critical period as puppies when they explore the world and learn who their friends and family are.

With wolves, that time is thought to start at about two weeks, when the wolves are deaf and blind. Scent is everything.

In dogs, it starts at about four weeks, when they can see, smell and hear. Dr. Lord thinks this shift in development, allowing dogs to use all their senses, might be key to their greater ability to connect with human beings.

Perhaps with more senses in action, they are more able to generalize from tolerating individual humans with a specific scent to tolerating humans in general with a scent, sight and sound profile.

When the critical period ends, wolves, and to a lesser extent dogs, experience something like the onset of stranger anxiety in human babies, when people outside of the family suddenly become scary.

The odds of being able to pin down genetically the shift in this crucial stage are still long, but both Dr. Lord and Dr. Karlsson think the idea is worth pursuing, as did the Broad Institute. It provided a small grant from a program designed to support scientists who take leaps into the unknown — what you might call what-if research.

There are two questions the scientists want to explore. One, said Dr. Karlsson: ”How did a wolf that was living in the forest become a dog that was living in our homes?”

The other is whether fear and sociability in dogs are related to the same emotions and behaviors in humans. If so, learning about dogs could provide insights to some human conditions in which social interaction is affected, like autism, or Williams syndrome, or schizophrenia.

The pups at Zoo Académie were only three weeks old when the group of researchers arrived. I showed up the next morning and walked into a room strewn with mattresses, researchers and puppies.

The humans were still groggy from a night with little sleep. Pups at that age wake up every few hours to whine and paw any warm body within reach.

Wolf mothers prompt their pups to urinate and defecate by licking their abdomens. The human handlers massaged the pups for the same reason, but often the urination was unpredictable, so the main subject of conversation when I arrived was wolf pup pee. How much, on whom, from which puppy.

As soon as I walked in, I was handed a puppy to cradle and bottle-feed. The puppy was like a furry larva, persistent, single-minded, with an absolute intensity of purpose.

Even with fur, teeth and claws, the pups were still hungry and helpless, and I couldn’t help but remember holding my own children when they took a bottle. I suspect that tiger kittens and the young of wolverines are equally irresistible. It’s a mammal thing.

The first part of Dr. Lord’s testing was to confirm her observations that the critical period for wolves starts and ends earlier than that for dogs.

She set up a procedure for testing the pups by exposing them to something they could not possibly have encountered before — a jiggly buzzing contraption of bird-scare rods, a tripod and a baby’s mobile.

Each week she tested one pup, so that no pup got used to it. She would put the puppy in a small arena, with low barriers for walls and with the mobile turned on. She would hide, to avoid distracting the puppy. Video cameras recorded the action, showing how the pups stumbled and later walked around the strange object, or shied away from it, or went right up to sniff it.

At three weeks, the pups had been barely able to get around and were still sleeping almost every minute they weren’t nursing. By eight weeks, when I returned to have them gambol all over me, they were rambunctious and fully capable of exploration.

The researchers won’t publicize the results until observers who never saw the puppies view and analyze the videos. But Dr. Lord said that wolf experts considered eight-week-old wolf puppies past the critical period. They were so friendly to me and others because they had been successfully socialized already.

Before and after the test, she collected urine, to measure levels of a hormone called cortisol, which rises during times of stress. If the pup in the video would not approach the jiggly monster and cortisol levels were high, that would indicate that the pup had begun to experience a level of fear of new things that could stop exploration. That would confirm the timing of the critical period.

She and Dr. Karlsson and others from the lab also collected saliva for DNA testing. They planned to use a new technique called ATAC-seq that uses an enzyme to mark active genes. Then when the wolf DNA is fed into one of the advanced machines that map genomes, only the active genes would be on the map.

Dr. Genereux, who was isolating and then reading DNA, said she thought it was “a long shot” that they would find what they wanted. She and the other researchers plan to refine their techniques to ask the questions successfully.

When They Grow Up
And what are socialized wolves like when they grow up, once the mysterious genetic machinery of the dog and wolf direct them on their separate ways?

I also visited Wolf Park, in Battle Ground, Ind., a 65-acre zoo and research facility where Dana Drenzek, the manager, and Pat Goodmann, the senior animal curator, took me around and introduced me not only to puppies they were socializing, but to some adult wolves.

In the 1970s, Ms. Goodmann worked with Erich Klinghammer, the founder of Wolf Park, to develop the 24/7 model for socializing wolf puppies, exposing them to humans and then also to other wolves, so they could relate to their own kind but accept the presence and attentions of humans, even intrusive ones like veterinarians.

The sprawling outdoor baby pen was filled with cots and hammocks for the volunteers, since the wolves were now nine and 11 weeks old and living outdoors all the time. There were plastic and plywood hiding places for the wolves and plenty of toys. It looked like a toddlers’ playground, except for the remnants of their meals — the odd deer clavicle or shin bone, and other assorted ribs, legs and shoulder bones, sometimes with skin and meat still attached.
The puppies were extremely friendly with the volunteers they knew, and mildly friendly with me. The adult wolves I met were also courteous, but remote. Two older males, Wotan and Wolfgang, each licked me once and walked away. Timber, the mother of some of the pups, and tiny at 50 pounds, also investigated me and then retired to a platform nearby.

Only Renki, an older wolf who had suffered from bone cancer and now got around on three legs, let me scratch his head for a while. None was bothered by my presence. None was more than mildly interested. None seemed to realize or care about my own intense desire to see the wolves, be near them, learn about them, touch them.

I saw how powerfully a visit with wolves could affect how you feel about the animals. I wanted to come back and help raise pups, and keep visiting so that I could say an adult wolf knew me in some way.

But I also wondered whether it was right to keep wolves in this setting. In the wild, they travel large distances and kill their food. These wolves were all bred in captivity and that was never a possibility for them.

But was I simply indulging a fantasy of getting close to nature? Was this in the same category as wanting a selfie with a captive tiger? What was best for the wolves themselves?
I asked Ms. Goodmann about it. She said that park operated on the idea that getting to know the park’s wolves, which had never been deprived of an earlier life in the wild, would make visitors care more for wild wolves, for conservation, for preserving a life for wild carnivores that they could never be part of.

And she noted that Wolf Park operates as a combination zoo and research station. Students and others from around the world compete to work as interns, helping with everything from raising puppies to emptying the fly traps.

This is the rationale for all zoos, and it was a strong argument. Then she made it stronger. She pointed out that one of the interns, Doug Smith, worked on the reintroduction of wild wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Smith has had a major role in the Wolf Restoration Project from the very beginning in 1995 and has been project leader since 1997. I reached him one morning at his office at park headquarters and asked him about his time as an intern at Wolf Park.

“I hand-reared four wolf pups, sleeping with them on a mattress for six weeks,” he said. “It had a profound effect. It was the first wolf job I ever got in my life. It turned into my career.”
From there he went on to study wild wolves on Isle Royale in Michigan, and then to work with L. David Mech, a pioneering wolf biologist who is senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. Eventually, he went to Yellowstone to work on restoring wolves to the park.

He said ethical questions about keeping wild animals in captivity are difficult, even when every effort is made to enrich their lives. But places like Wolf Park provide great value, he said, if they can get people “to think about the plight of wolves across the world, and do something about it.”

In today’s environment, “with conservation on the run, nature on the run, you need them,” he added.

Then he said what all wolf specialists say: That even though wolf pups look like dogs, they are not, that keeping a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid as a pet is a terrible idea.

“If you want a wolf,” he said, “get a dog.”