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Old 10-20-2014, 02:29 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Chicago Illinois USA
Default Top predators make the news again

A few years ago I read a book by William Stolzenburg Where The Wild Things Were That discussed what happens in an environment where the top predators were lost.

Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators: William Stolzenburg: 9781596916241: Amazon.com: Books

Today I read this from the University Of British Columbia, another bit of information about what happens to an ecosystem when herbivores have no fear of predation. It makes sense. The top predator is not always a menace to humanity but does always make a difference.

Loss of big predators could leave herbivores in a thorny situation

Global declines in carnivore populations could embolden plant eaters to increasingly dine on succulent vegetation, driving losses in plant and tree biodiversity, according to UBC research published today in Science.

UBC zoologist Adam Ford and colleagues used GPS tracking and feeding experiments to measure how an African antelope's (impala) fear of predators, as well as the growing patterns of thorny plants, combine to influence the landscape.

"Our observations indicate that carnivores – like leopards and wild dogs – shape where herbivores eat," says Ford, lead author of the paper. "Plant defenses – such as thorns – shape what herbivores eat."

"As human activities continue to reduce populations of predators, herbivores like impala become willing to feed in areas that used to be risky—consuming more preferred vegetation and, ironically, allowing less-preferred thorny plant species to take over," says Ford.

Recent, unrelated, data published in Science indicate more than three quarters of the world's 31 large carnivore species are in decline and that 17 species occupied less than half of their historical distributions.

"Plants have two pathways to success," says Ford. "You either protect yourself from herbivores by growing large thorns, or thrive in areas that are risky to your predators — plant eaters."
Another viewpoint...


With humans now abandoning such traditional farming areas due to dwindling productivity and the lure of better economic opportunities in towns and cities, conservationists are wagering that the introduction of large herbivores like the Retuertas will help to re-create a healthy, self-managing ecosystem that supports a greater diversity of species.
With early rewilding projects now maturing and Rewilding Europe launching new ones across the continent, conservationists and ecologists alike now have an unprecedented opportunity to see whether the introduction of large mammals and a hands-off approach really can forge self-sustaining ecosystems in which biodiversity can flourish. In the process, they hope to generate insights into the dynamics of past ecosystems and to study how researchers and conservationists might recreate something of their splendor now in the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch in which human activities have had an indelible impact on nature.

“Rewilding is happening whether we like it or not, and all of these new projects can be experiments,” says Jens-Christian Svenning, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “If we do things properly, with proper experimental design and careful monitoring, we can learn a lot. This is a chance to gain a better understanding of how natural ecosystems actually work.”
"Half Earth Quest" Edward O. Wilson

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