Conservation Science Blog

New research relevant to conservation in western North America

The Conservation Science Blog is intended to bring new and relevant research to the attention of conservation scientists, and facilitate discussion on how to apply this science to further conservation goals in western North America.

Ecological implications of complex trophic cascades among carnivores

A new paper by Levi and Wilmers in the journal Ecology uses a 30-year time series of wolf, coyote, and fox relative abundance from the state of Minnesota, USA, to show that wolves suppress coyote populations, which in turn releases foxes from top-down control by coyotes. The authors conclude “Mesopredator release theory has often considered the consequence of top predator removal in a three species interaction chain (i.e., coyote–fox–prey) where the coyote was considered the top predator (Ritchie and Johnson 2009). However, the historical interaction chain before the extirpation of wolves had four links. In a four-link system, the top predator releases the smaller predator. The implication is that a world where prey species are heavily predated by abundant small predators (mesopredator release) may be similar to the historical ecosystem.” The study’s findings suggest that “among-guild interaction chains with even numbers of species will result in the smallest competitor being suppressed while among-guild interaction chains with odd numbers of species will result in the smallest competitor being released.” These findings have important implications for efforts to predict the consequences of removal or restoration of top predators.
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