A survey on the loss in the Northern Hemisphere of large predators, particularly wolves, concludes that current populations of moose, deer, and other large herbivores far exceed their historic levels and are contributing to disrupted ecosystems.
The research, published recently by scientists from Oregon State University, examined 42 studies done over the past 50 years.
It found that the loss of major predators in forest ecosystems has allowed game animal populations to greatly increase, crippling the growth of young trees and reducing biodiversity. This also contributes to deforestation and results in less carbon sequestration, a potential concern with climate change.
"These issues do not just affect the United States and a few national parks," said William Ripple, an OSU professor of forestry and lead author of the study. "The data from Canada, Alaska, the Yukon, Northern Europe and Asia are all showing similar results. There's consistent evidence that large predators help keep populations of large herbivores in check, with positive effects on ecosystem health."
In recent years, OSU researchers have helped lead efforts to understand how major predators help to reduce herbivore population levels, improve ecosystem function and even change how herbivores behave when they feel threatened by predation -- an important aspect they call the "ecology of fear."
"In systems where large predators remain, they appear to have a major role in sustaining the diversity and productivity of native plant communities, thus maintaining healthy ecosystems," said Beschta. "When the role of major predators is more fully appreciated, it may allow managers to reconsider some of their assumptions about the management of wildlife."
In Idaho and Montana, hundreds of wolves are now being killed in an attempt to reduce ranching conflicts and increase game herd levels.
The new analysis makes clear that the potential beneficial ecosystem effects of large predators is far more pervasive, over much larger areas, than has often been appreciated.
It points out how large predators can help maintain native plant communities by keeping large herbivore densities in check, allow small trees to survive and grow, reduce stream bank erosion, and contribute to the health of forests, streams, fisheries and other wildlife.
It also concludes that human hunting, due to its limited duration and impact, is not effective in preventing hyper-abundant densities of large herbivores. This is partly "because hunting by humans is often not functionally equivalent to predation by large, wide-ranging carnivores such as wolves," the researchers wrote in their report.
"More studies are necessary to understand how many wolves are needed in managed ecosystems," Ripple said. "It is likely that wolves need to be maintained at sufficient densities before we see their resulting effects on ecosystems."
"The preservation or recovery of large predators may represent an important conservation need for helping to maintain the resiliency of northern forest ecosystems," the researchers concluded, "especially in the face of a rapidly changing climate."
Read the full article as printed in Science Daily here
PLEASE JOIN US IN ALBUQUERQUE ON FRIDAY, APRIL 13 TO TELL THE USFWS TO RELEASE WOLVES FOR A HEALTHY SOUTHWEST ECOSYTEM!
Dear Director Tuggle,
Mexican gray wolves need to live wild, and wild places need them. New releases of Mexican gray wolves are badly needed to bolster the population of only 58 wolves that remain in the wild. This population is too small to ensure the survival of these magnificent animals and there are many wolves in captivity that are eligible for release. Newly released wolves will not only increase population numbers but will also improve the wild population’s genetics.
I ask that you do all in your power to expedite releases of more captive wolves into the wild and to change the rules governing the reintroduction to allow initial releases directly into New Mexico. As the agency with ultimate authority and responsibility for restoring the Mexican wolf, the US Fish and Wildlife Service should be doing anything it can do to confirm its commitment to the wolf’s success in the wild.