Carnivore Loss Presents Global Conservation Crisis?

Carnivore loss presents global conservation crisis

A new study has recently established that a number of factors contribute towards the development of “global hotspots” of declining carnivore populations. With losses associated with a number of large predators – including bears, dingoes, lions, otters and wolves – these changes are conjectured to be responsible for adverse changes in a variety of diverse landscapes, ranging from the tropics to the Arctic.

A Global Carnivore Loss

The authors of the latest study – which appears in the latest issue of the journal Science – indicate a decline in 75 percent of all the 31 large-carnivore species. In addition, 17 of these species now inhabit much smaller regions – less than half of their former ranges.

A decline in multiple carnivorous species has been observed in the Amazon, southeast Asia and southern and East Africa. As was to be expected, the hardest hit regions span across the developed world, where many large carnivores have been eradicated; this includes areas throughout the United States and Western Europe.

Professor William Ripple, lead author of the latest paper, worked as part of an international team of researchers, with many of his colleagues hailing from the U.S., Australia, Italy and Sweden. Based in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, Ripple reiterated the finding of widespread decline in species of large carnivores, before going on to describe the collapse in the creatures’ ranges:

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores… Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.”

Trophic Cascades Affect Entire Ecosystems

The research team performed a systematic review of pre-existing scientific reports. They identified a total of seven different species of large carnivores that had been extensively studied for their systemic impact on various ecological systems – phenomena defined as “trophic cascades.” The seven species comprised of cougars, dingoes, leopards, African lions, Eurasian Lynx, sea otters and gray wolves.

Ripple, along with co-author Robert Beschta, previously documented a trophic cascade when studying the influence of scant populations of cougars and wolves in North American national parks, including Yellowstone. They confirmed that fewer predators culminated in a boom in populations of browsing animals, including deer and elk. In turn, this increased browsing affected the forest stands and riparian vegetation – situated at the interface between land and rivers – and displaced birds and small mammals.

Olive baboon populations affected by lions

Olive baboon populations can wreak havoc on livestock and crops when unchecked by populations of lions and leopards.

Meanwhile, in parts of Africa, declining lion and leopard populations have been attributed to a attendant increase in olive baboons (a.k.a Anubis baboons), which are found in 25 countries throughout the continent. Olive baboons are omnivorous creatures, seeking out nutrition from a wide range of environments and eating virtually all types of plants, invertebrates and small mammals; as a result, the baboons have wreaked havoc on crops and livestock.

Killer whale populations have also been linked to sea otter numbers, particularly in western Alaska. In the last 10 years, the sea otter population has plummeted considerably – a trend that many scientists have correlated to increased predation from killer whales. In 2003, Dr. Alan Springer and colleagues published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled Sequential megafaunal collapse in the North Pacific Ocean: An ongoing legacy of industrial whaling? The group found, prior to the late 1970’s, almost all species of great whale in the North Pacific were hunted to near-extinction. Since these whale species were prime food sources for killer whales, they were forced to find alternative nourishment, in the form of smaller marine mammals. As a consequence, the killer whale began hunting and consuming seals. This caused a change reaction, however, which led to an increase in sea urchins and a knock-on loss of kelp beds, as sea otters were no longer present to keep the sea urchins in check.

The Future

In interpreting all the research, Ripple and colleagues call for further research to gain deeper insight into the relationship between large carnivores and their ecosystems. The team argues against previous misconceptions that suggested predators are harmful to their environments and merely destroy wildlife, proclaiming these concepts to be outdated. Instead, they explain that carnivores play highly complex roles in their ecosystems and yield “social and economic benefits.”

Ripple refers to the esteemed American ecologist Aldo Leopold in making his point. Leopold was instrumental in furthering wildlife conservation efforts, and appreciated the intricate relationships between predators and their ecosystems.

“Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation. We say these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but they are also providing economic and ecological services that people value.”

Ripple also points out how quickly restoration of large carnivores can affect a beleaguered ecosystem, referring to the radical change observed in Yellowstone and Finland, upon the return of wolves and Eurasian lynx, respectively. However, Ripple posits that full ecosystem restitution may not be possible in those regions where a decline in vegetation has led to soil erosion.

Nonetheless, after studying the widespread impact that carnivore loss has on ecosystems, worldwide, the researchers call for international initiatives to conserve large predators.

By James Fenner

Sources:

Press Release
Oregon State University YouTube
Wild Whales
CSM
NBC News

13 Responses to Carnivore Loss Presents Global Conservation Crisis?

  1. Abrupt January 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    By listening to some of the comments, you’d think scientists were a bunch of rich fatcats, raking in the cash and living lives of wanton debauchery.

    Reply
  2. labrat45 January 11, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Wow, I find it interesting that people find a way to make this political. Science is science and people who are brainwashed into thinking that global warming doesn’t exist or that humans are not responsible for this truly have their heads in the sand. What will it take for you to see what is evident to the naked eye? At one time, despite evidence to the contrary, people believed that the earth was the center of the universe (clearly not true) and they EXCOMMUNICATED those who believed the science that proved it was not. Pseudo-science exists and church leaders and others in control will snow people into believing that global warming, carnivore population decline, and any of the other ills that are caused by humans is “divine providence”. Have fun HUNGRY- you’ll get your wish for now. I’m sorry for your children and grandchildren however, because their won’t be much left for them in 100 years. But by then the rapture should occur, which makes it a non-issue for many.

    Reply
  3. Hungry January 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    That leaves more meat for me.

    Reply
  4. marty January 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    because these days science could never be corrupted, right? wrong… look at the global warming BS science. just like that is a “political” crisis, this also sounds more like propaganda to me. at least at first glance.

    so whats the solution? now the gov will tell you that you can only live in certain areas or you will be endangering wild life, similar to not being allowed to piss on a tree here.
    it is all about controlling the sheeple. yes, that includes YOU! the scientific evidence is needed to control you, so it would make sense to have the science work in the government’s favor…

    Remember, they have so much money and power ( because we give them all of OUR money and power…) and claim to represent us but they don’t. too bad people still vote these 100% corrupt politicians…

    I guess people are just blind deaf or dumb. Or, in most amuricans’ case, “all of the above” lol

    Reply
  5. John Hoffhines January 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Finally another article to read on the continued funding needed for the schools listed as that is the only reason for the article as the biases are evident and expressed here.
    I wish the throwing of money of studies already done and not needed again say like a traffic study on a busy bridge…
    political and money based funding to protect the continuing saga of funding….

    Reply

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