Speaking of Science
As large animals disappear, the loss of their poop hurts the planet

Loss Of Animals' Poop Disrupts Nutrient Cycles, New Study Shows

Loss Of Poop From Declining Large Animal Populations Hurt The Planet

Reposted from : for Biodiversity’s Sake 

#TrophicCascade #ProtectPredators


Posted on May 19, 2014 by Rubenature
by Cristina Eisenberg

The wolves’ return to Yellowstone and the subsequent recovery of plants that elk had been eating to death in their absence has become one the most popularized and beloved ecological tales. By the 1920s humans had misguidedly wiped out most of the wolves in North America, thinking that the only good wolf was a dead one. Without wolves preying on them, elk and deer (also calledungulates) exploded in number. Burgeoning ungulate populations ravaged plant communities, including aspen forests.
http://ipfieldnotes.org/ghost-trees/  Decades later, the wolves we reintroduced in Yellowstone hit the ground running, rapidly sending their ecological effects rippling throughout the region, restoring this ecosystem from top to bottom. Yet today some scientists caution that this story is more myth than fact because nature isn’t so simple.

For decades scientists have been investigating the ecological role of wolves. In his 1940s game surveys, Aldo Leopold 
http://wildread.blogspot.com/2011/08/aldo-leopold-and-mark-of-wolfs-tooth-by.html found ungulates wiping out vegetation wherever wolves had been removed. He concluded that by controlling ungulates, wolves could restore plant communities and create healthier habitat for other species, such as birds.

Since Leopold’s time, many scientists have studied food web relationships between top predators and their prey—called trophic cascades. In the 1960s and 1970s Robert Paine, working with sea stars, and James Estes, working with sea otters, showed that ecosystems without top predators begin to unravel. John Terborgh called the ensuing rampant species extinctions an “ecological meltdown.” Paine created the metaphorical termkeystone species to refer to top predators and noted that when you remove the keystone, arches and ecosystems collapse. Over the years ecologists found trophic cascades—also called top-down effects—ubiquitous from coral reefs to prairies to polar regions. However, William Murdoch and others have maintained that sunlight and moisture, which make plants grow, drive ecosystem processes from the bottom-up, making predators relatively unimportant. The Yellowstone wolf reintroduction provided the perfect setting to test these contrasting perspectives.

In the mid-1800s in his book The Origin of Species, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1228 Charles Darwin presciently described nature as a “tangled bank.” Nature’s complexity results from myriad species and their relationships with other species and all the things that can possibly affect them individually and collectively, such as disease, disturbance, and competition for food. Science works incrementally, taking us ever deeper into nature’s tangled bank as we investigate ecological questions. Each study answers some questions and begets new ones. Sometimes we find contradictory results. Learning how nature works requires what Leopold called “deep-digging research” in which we keep searching for answers amid the clues nature gives us, such as the bitten-off stem of an aspen next to a stream where there are no wolves.

Trophic cascades science that focuses on wolf effects is still in its infancy, with huge knowledge gaps. For example, we’ve linked wolves to strong effects that cascade down through multiple food web levels. However, we’re just starting to parse how context can influence these effects. Some Yellowstone studies have found that wolves have powerful indirect effects on the plants that elk eat, such as aspens, due to fear of predation. With wolves around, elk have to keep moving to stay alive, which reduces browsing pressure. Conversely, a growing body of studies are finding no wolf effect—that aspens in places with wolves aren’t growing differently than those where predation risk is low. Other studies have found that wolf predation risk doesn’t affect elk feeding behavior. In my own research I’ve found that wolves need another keystone force—fire—to most effectively drive trophic cascades. With wolves and fire present, elk herbivory drops, aspens thrive, and biodiversity soars due to the healthy habitat created by young, vigorously growing aspen.

It’s human nature to try to find simple solutions. Today we are grappling with monumental environmental problems such as climate change and habitat fragmentation. Due to the wolf’s iconic status and our need to fix broken ecosystems, the environmental community and the media have run with the science that shows a strong wolf effect. This has inspired other scientists to prove that ecosystems are more complex than that. These dissenting studies demonstrate that the wolf dwells in a tangled bank, working alongside many other ecological forces.

Tangled banks seldom yield simple answers. However, arguing about what exactly carnivores do ecologically and why we need them is fiddling while Rome burns. Large, meat-eating animals improve the health of plant communities and provide food subsidies for the many species that scavenge on their kills. A system with wolves in it is far richer than one without and can support many more grizzly bears, coyotes, wolverines, and eagles. There are things we don’t know and disagreements about what we do know. But given the accelerated human-caused extinctions we are experiencing today, a precautionary approach to creating healthier ecosystems means conserving large carnivores.

Beyond empiricism, scientists often operate based on instinct. Instinct led Darwin to dig more deeply into species adaptation and Leopold to doggedly delve into the effects of predator removal. For many of us who conduct trophic cascades science, our instincts are telling us that wolves should be conserved in as high a number in as many places as possible, due to the invaluable benefits they can bring to ecosystems. To do anything other than conserve wolves would be foolish, given all we’ve learned thus far.

Source: http://ipfieldnotes.org/wolves-in-a-tangled-bank/



Reposted from : for Biological Diversity's Sake 
Please follow on Twitter: Rubén Portas @RubenPortasP

Posted on May 11, 2014 by Rubenature
By Paul Thomson on Wed, 02 Apr 2014

It was late in the summer, and the two young lions had been on a camel killing spree. Over a period of three months, they had entered the villages of the Samburu people at night and killed ten prized camels.

It wasn’t long before they paid the price. One hot, hazy day in early September, when the male lions were napping under a scraggly acacia tree, a group of five young men came upon them. The men fired their AK-47s. Lguret, whose name means “cowardly,” ran off. Loirish, who was the more aggressive of the pair, may have stood his ground. He may even have tried to fight back, but he was no match for the rifles.

Letoiye with Lorish head
Samburu warrior Letoiye mourns the loss of Loirish, a lion he had been tracking.

Then the men butchered Loirish. They used their knives, adorned in colorful plastic as all Samburu warrior knives are, to cut off the lion’s head and feet. Then they took Loirish’s head and burned it in a small fire, an unusual act that was probably meant to destroy the GPS tracking collar we had placed on him to track his movements so we could warn herders. By the time we got to the grisly site, Liorish’s feet were missing. The men had taken them, perhaps to be sold on the growing black market for traditional Chinese medicine.

Letoiye, a member of the Samburu tribe and a part of our field team which had been tracking Loirish up to that day, stared at the blackened head in the pit and asked no one in particular, “Why did they kill my lion?”

Liorish unfortunately shares his fate with a growing number of large carnivores around the world who have clashed with humans and didn’t survive. Of the 31 large carnivores species like him—including lions, tigers, cougars, wolves, and snow leopards—most live not in some pristine wilderness, as we’d like to believe, but in landscapes dominated by humans and their activities. As a result, these animals are caught in a struggle between two sides of humanity—the one that wants large carnivores preserved and the other that would like to see them eliminated.

Letoiye is a Samburu moran, or warrior, a group that has traditionally been neglected in conservation. He never went to school and instead roamed the countryside tending to his family’s livestock while keeping a watchful eye on the land around the village. Despite their lack of formal education, Letoiye and his fellow moran possess skills that are the envy of many biologists and wildlife authorities. Because their job is to ensure their community’s security—which in rural East Africa often involves watching for predators—the moran know an impressive amount about lions and other predators.

A lioness gazes over the plain at Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Kenya.

Warriors like Letioye inspired us to set up Warrior Watch four years ago. They offer an intimate knowledge of the landscape and how lions and other wildlife move throughout it. In return, we teach Letioye and his peers how to identify each lion’s unique whisker spot pattern and how to discuss carnivore issues with fellow Samburu. We also offer weekly lessons on reading and writing in English and Kiswahili.

Before Warrior Watch, it wasn’t uncommon for moran to hunt and kill lions without question from their peers. But now, this program and others in Kenya are proving that attitudes towards lions and other large carnivores can change. A recent study of the program showed that participating warriors and their communities had a higher tolerance of lions and better understanding of their value.

The situation in the United States is not much different from the Samburu in Kenya. In California in 2013, for example, the state’s Department of Fish and Game issued 148 permits to eliminate cougars that had killed livestock and pets. As the suburbs expand out into once-wild areas, cougars are becoming more common in people’s backyards, where they occasionally kill goats and pets. While our livelihoods don’t always depend on our animals in the same way that the Samburus’ rely on their livestock, cougar-human clashes in California illustrate a broader point. The U.S. and Kenya share a bond that is at the heart of human-carnivore conflict: we both kill carnivores when we perceive them as threats to things we value.

The reality is, of course, that we are a far greater threat to carnivores than they are to us. The cougar, for example, was all but eliminated from the eastern half of the United States during the 20th century. And in Africa, in the last half a century, the number of lions roaming in the wild has declined from 200,000 to fewer than 35,000. That’s mostly due to habitat destruction by humans. Lions used to roam most of the continent. Today, they occupy just 20% of their original territory, scattered across the continent and separated by cities, highways, villages, and farm fields. Some live on reserves, but that protected area isn’t enough to cover lions’ still expansive home ranges.

Reria bioculars
A moran scouts the savannah

A large number of conservationists favor creating more protected areas like national parks and reserves. After all, the largest intact populations of lions live in Selous and Ruaha National Parks, giant expanses of land under protection in Tanzania. These parks not only protect lions, they also support the entire ecosystem, fostering healthy savannahs that nurture gazelles and other prey species that keep lions sated. They also generate income through tourism, a not unimportant fact in many impoverished regions.

Large carnivores like lions require expansive ranges to meet their daily needs.
But protected areas haven’t been a panacea for large carnivores. As in the U.S., most African parks do not offer complete protection. Poachers have infiltrated many parks specifically to go after lions, while herders grazing their livestock inside park boundaries inadvertently take resources away from lion prey like gazelles and wildebeest.

Which is why some conservation biologists are suggesting that the only way to truly protect lions is to fully enclose reserves in fences. Yes, this would trap lions inside the parks, but it would also create a physical barrier between them and us. Such a move certainly has the potential to reduce poaching and limit human-animal conflict, but it could also reduce the viability of individual lion populations inside. Large carnivores like lions require expansive ranges to meet their daily needs. Plus, they can suffer from a phenomenon known as bottlenecking when overcrowded, which can lead to higher incidence of genetic disease and inbreeding. Fencing in lions to creating carnivore islands is one tool that might be effective in some cases, but given the potential for problems, it is not a “one size fits all” solution.

A better solution is to raise the tolerance of the land—and the people—living around protected areas. Lions, cougars, and other large carnivores will be able to live with people if they have safe refuge and as long as we keep ourselves and our property at a safe distance. Yet carnivores don’t belong in every human landscape, so we also need to carefully manage the areas where they can be supported.

That’s why we’re working hard in northern Kenya to create these landscape mosaics where local people can tolerate carnivores. We use a combination of high-tech research activities combined with low-cost community-sourced education programs like Warrior Watch. This year, we are fitting GPS-enabled tracking collars on ten young adult male lions. By mapping lion movements through the landscape, we can identify key corridors and refuges that might be prioritized for lions. The tracks also let us know which communities are in the lions’ territories so we can reach out to them with programs like Warrior Watch.

Collared lion
One of the lions collared and tracked as a part of the Warrior Watch program

At the same time, we’re also using the GPS collars to tell herders where the predator hot zones are. That way they can keep their livestock clear, avoiding unnecessary confrontations and losses. We can also track lions like Loirish that are known for killing livestock. When we locate one, our warriors go in to tell the villagers to be especially vigilant.

We can apply these lessons here in the U.S., too. As cougar and other carnivore populations make a comeback, a mixed approach is key. Protected areas are certainly important, since they provide carnivores and their prey with crucial strongholds. But we also need people to develop a tolerance to carnivores if we are to sustain that coexistence.

Everyone’s point of view needs to be included in the process.
It’s starting to happen in places like the Santa Cruz mountains where conservation groups, state agencies, academic institutions, and landowners are working together to improve tolerance of cougars. Homeowners are learning how to properly fence their goats to keep them safe from cougar attacks, which can reduce the need to kill cougars in retaliation. And local governments are installing culverts under roadways to let cougars cross highways without risking dangerous collisions with vehicles. There are other innovative measures, too, like the protection of a forest behind a cement plant that cougars took a liking to. Portions of the plant grounds are open for recreational hiking while the important cougar habitat is being left intact. There’s something for everyone.

Additionally, we need programs that educate hikers and pet owners as well as ones to work with groups, like the Samburu warriors, that haven’t been a part of traditional outreach programs.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s point of view needs to be included in the process. It’s useful to keep in mind that the Samburu don’t need to be told how to live with lions—they’ve been doing that for tens of thousands of years—or that Americans don’t like being pandered to. Together, we can figure out how humans, livestock, pets, and wild carnivores can live together in increasingly crowded landscapes.

Back in Kenya, Letoiye remains troubled by the killing of Loirish. In some respects, his new way of thinking clashes with the old ways that many of his people still follow. He no longer sees lions as a threat, but as a unique part of his identity. He feels a responsibility to protect them, and he works everyday to convey a message of coexistence. But not everyone wants to listen. Loirish’s death is perhaps the most vivid reminder of that.

Fortunately, Letoiye’s not alone. Another warrior on our team, Jeneria, once said something that gives me hope: “Lions are in my blood now.” Losing lions is something Letoiye, Jeneria, and their fellow warriors are no longer willing to accept.

Photo credits: Paul Thomson/Ewaso Lions, Tony Allport


Reposted from The Wildlife News



By Ralph Maughan on May 11, 2014  
A new AP story tells us that the incidence of deer tick borne Lyme Disease continues to grow in the U.S. Northeast and to spread. 

Worse, the very cold winter did not seem to reduce the number of the ticks significantly as some had predicted. The “deer tick” that primarily spreads the disease in New England is Ixodes dammini. Ixodes scapularis (Black legged tick) is the vector in the South. Ixodes pacificus spreads it in the Pacific Coastal area. The organism that causes Lyme is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, although this conclusion is growing more complicated. 

It is doubtful that any one method will be the solution to this debilitating infection. However, wildlife management (killing deer) is often suggested. This will offend many hunters and deer lovers. Perhaps surprisingly, reducing the density of deer has not proven effective in most cases. However, other wildlife measures might be.

The primary reservoir for the organism is the white footed mouse, not the white-tailed deer. Yes, the deer are often infected and provide some of the needed blood meals for the nymphal and adult ticks.  Other small rodents can also be important reservoirs too.

The best wildlife solution is not obvious, and will irritate some hunters as much as killing deer. It is the promotion of the red fox, a species that is on the decline because of shooting, trapping, and perhaps habitat change. Part of that habitat is the coyote, which displaces the fox.

The red fox is the perfect predator of the white footed mouse, which is too small to attract much attention from coyotes. Promotion of the fox will alienate some because of its alleged impact on small game and perhaps small pets.

Urban forestry also places a role in control of the mouse. Small urban stands of trees in the forested East are perfect mouse habitat because of food for the mouse and a lack of mouse predators. Larger stands harbor fox and other mouse predators and tend to have a lower mouse density. This fact implies that the small lots of trees loved by many might need to be removed.  Larger stands, on the other hand, might be promoted.

All of these possibilities will meet resistance and are not mentioned in the AP article.

This information comes from scientific papers on the Internet and the recent book by David Quammen, “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.”

Photo credit:
NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife - Foxes in New Jersey
Red Fox Photo by Gary Lehman 

Reposted from our friend CanisLupus101 ~ Saturday, May 3. 2014

MAY 2, 2014

The world’s predators – mammals such as gray wolves, jaguars, tigers, African lions, European lynx, wolverines, and black and brown bears, along with sharks – are declining at an alarming rate. While those species are suffering for a variety of reasons, one of the main sources of morality is human in origin. It’s a bit counterintuitive, since predators are some of the more charismatic of species. And charismatic critters are the easiest ones about which to convince people to care.

It would seem as if the best way to ensure the success of conservation programs aimed at preserving these most iconic of species would be to turn humans from enemies into allies. In other words, humans have to become more tolerant of predators. The problem, according to researchers Adrian Treves and Jeremy Bruskotter, is that we don’t know very much about what makes people tolerant of some predators and intolerant of others. In an article in this week’s issue of Science Magazine, they argue that wildlife conservation efforts ought to account for human psychology.

One of the primary assumptions driving research in conservation psychology is that intolerance toward predators, whether in the form of sanctioned eradication programs or culls (like gray wolves in the US or bears in parts of Europe or sharks in Australia) or in the form of illegal poaching, is driven mainly by the real or imagined need to retaliate against losses of livelihood, usually due to livestock predation. “Under this assumption,” Treves and Bruskotter write, “governments and private organizations aiming to protect predators have implemented economic incentives to reduce the perceived costs of predator conservation and raise tolerance for predators.”

One such program is implemented in Sweden. The government pays indigenous reindeer herders called Sami to tolerate the occasional loss of livestock to predators, and it seems to be effective for wolverines, brown bears, and lynxes. Each time a predator successfully reproduces, the Sami herders are paid.

But that strategy is only effective insofar as the source of predator intolerance is economic. That might work for some predators, but not for others. Fifty-one percent of Sweden’s wolves died from poaching between 1998 and 2009. The Swedish program has so far failed to protect gray wolves because the Sami perceive the costs of tolerance as weightier than the benefits. At present, wolves are effectively extirpated from parts of the country where reindeer graze.

An adjustment of social norms may succeed, however, where economic incentives fail. In Kenya, Maasai herders are not just compensated when lions kill their livestock; some community members are trained to warn villagers when lions approach, and monitor their movements. It reflects a different strategy, one of cautious coexistence driven by altered social norms rather than rigid defensiveness driven by externally imposed economic remuneration.

A similar effort is implemented in Brazil, for ranchers whose livestock graze near jaguar territories. In one study, researchers interviewed 268 cattle ranchers about their tolerance for jaguars, and found that perceived social norms were far more influential than economic disincentives when it came to determining any individual rancher’s likelihood to kill a jaguar. In other words, if ranchers thought that their neighboring ranchers killed jaguars, or if they thought that their neighbors would expect them to kill jaguars, they were more likely to do it. It’s the very same peer pressure that plays out in high schools across America, superimposed onto Brazilian rainforests. “The social facilitation that results in areas where poaching is common and accepted can create predator-free zones as neighbors and associates coordinate their actions explicitly or tacitly,” write Treves and Bruskotter.

Things aren’t so different in the industrialized West, where sport hunters are often thought of as valuable partners in conservation. The reasoning goes that since hunters at one time helped to conserve game species (like deer and ducks), then hunters would also help conserve predators who are designated as legal game. One program in Wisconsin was designed explicitly to increase tolerance for wolves by allowing 43 of the endangered canids to be killed each year. And yet while the program was in place, researchers found a decrease in tolerance and in increase in the desire to kill wolves. Legalizing the hunting of predators, even in a restricted way, didn’t have the intended outcome.

Wisconsin’s wolf hunting program wasn’t a controlled experiment, so the interpretation of the results is necessarily limited. However, some researchers did organize a controlled experiment to see how various approaches might improve tolerance for American black bears. The researchers discovered that providing people with information about the benefits derived from bears along with information about how to reduce the risks of negative bear encounters increased peoples’ tolerance for the animals. On the other hand, information about how to reduce risks alone, without the additional information about benefits, actually reduced their tolerance. Treves and Bruskotter suspect that’s because the risks were made more salient without the buffering effect of the bears’ benefits on local ecosystems. Similar results were seen for studies investigating the tolerance of tigers in Nepal.

Taken together, Treves and Bruskotter argue that while monetary incentives can be successful tools in the conservationist’s toolbox, poaching is influenced more strongly by social and cultural factors. “We therefore recommend caution in legalizing the killing of predators,” they say. They further argue that the best way to move forward in understanding when economic and social incentives are more or less effective is through explicit experimental manipulation, rather than through the haphazard patchwork of trial and error that has in many cases characterized predator conservation efforts.

  – Jason G. Goldman | 2 May 2014

Source: Treves A. & Bruskotter J. (2014). Tolerance for Predatory Wildlife, Science, 344 476-477. 




"The Carnivore Way" could be key to large predator conservation

May 2nd, 2014 in Biology / Ecology
North America's mountainous backbone, stretching from Mexico to Alaska, could serve as a model for balancing the needs of large predators and people, an Oregon State University biologist suggests in a new book.
In "The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America's Predators," published May 1 by Island Press, Cristina Eisenberg describes the ongoing efforts of humans to coexist with wolves, cougars, wolverines and other species in a largely wild but developing landscape.
Eisenberg, who grew up in a hunting and ranching family in northern Mexico, is an instructor in the Oregon State College of Forestry, a Smithsonian research associate and an Earthwatch scientist. She obtained her doctorate and completed two post-doctoral fellowships at Oregon State.
From her home in northwestern Montana, where grizzlies and wolves outnumber people, she traveled more than 13,000 miles – from the Arctic to northern Mexico – to trace corridors that link carnivores with the habitats they need to thrive. She met with scientists who studied these animals and with officials who found ways to conserve grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and other species. She talked with conservationists who hiked the trails and documented challenges to predators and their prey.
"Large carnivore conservation is ultimately about people," Eisenberg wrote. "Science and environmental law can help us learn to share landscapes with fierce creatures, but ultimately coexistence has to do with our human hearts."
For Eisenberg, it also has much to do with ecosystems. Wildlife scientists have documented the crucial role that large carnivores play in shaping forests and rangelands, she said.
"When you're out there on the ground and a wolf shows up or a cougar shows up and starts doing what they do, you have these 'aha' moments," Eisenberg said. "What I'm doing in 'The Carnivore Way' is providing a lot of stories and examples. There's a massive amount of science in the book, but in the end, it's sharing those 'aha' moments that help people connect with these animals."
In a world in which ecosystems are reeling from climate change and other human influences, she said, wolves and other carnivores can restore resilience that benefits the resources that people depend on. By maintaining a role for carnivores, ecosystems are more likely to rebound in the face of drought, fire and other disturbances linked to a changing climate.
"Scientists studying ecosystems worldwide have found that carnivores indirectly improve the health and vigor of plant communities by reducing the density of their prey and in some cases by changing prey behavior," said Eisenberg. "In many places in North America, for example, by preying on elk, wolves reduce the browsing pressure that elk place on plants. This enables trees and shrubs to grow to maturity and provide habitat for many other species, such as songbirds."
Eisenberg's research on the effects of predators on ecosystems has been supported by Parks Canada and the High Lonesome Ranch, which occupies 400 square miles in western Colorado. She and Oregon State co-investigator David Hibbs recently obtained Earthwatch Institute funding that will support their research on wolves, elk, and fire for several years. Articles featuring her research have appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times, High Country News and other outlets.
In 2010, Island Press published her previous book, "The Wolf's Tooth," which describes the ecological roles of large carnivores. She is writing a book on climate change, "Taking the Heat: Wildlife, Food Webs, and Extinction in a Warming World," also for Island Press.
Provided by Oregon State University
""The Carnivore Way" could be key to large predator conservation." May 2nd, 2014. 

Thank you Twiggi @twiggtops for sharing this with us.



Art: Pamela Platt Studios boards
Posted on June 10, 2013 by Rubenature

Nature swiftly responds when we stop trying to control it. This is our big chance to reverse man’s terrible destructive impact

Could the destruction of the natural world be reversed? Could our bare hills once more support a rich and thriving ecosystem, containing wolves, lynx, moose, bison, wolverines and boar? Does our wildlife still bear the marks of the great beasts that once roamed here? George Monbiot narrates an animation on the enchanting subject of rewilding.


Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail. There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across.

The short-faced bear stood 13ft in its hind socks. 

One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey. 

The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26ft. 

Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers.

During the previous interglacial period, Britain and Europe contained much of the megafauna we now associate with the tropics: forest elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions and hyenas. The elephants, rhinos and hippos were driven into southern Europe by the ice, then exterminated about 40,000 years ago when modern humans arrived. Lions and hyenas persisted: lions hunted reindeer across the frozen wastes of Britain until 11,000 years ago. 
The distribution of these animals has little to do with temperature: only where they co-evolved with humans and learned to fear them did they survive.

Most of the deciduous trees in Europe can resprout wherever the trunk is broken. They can survive the extreme punishment – hacking, splitting, trampling – inflicted when a hedge is laid. Understorey trees such as holly, box and yew have much tougher roots and branches than canopy trees, despite carrying less weight. Our trees, in other words, bear strong signs of adaptation to elephants. Blackthorn, which possesses very long spines, seems over-engineered to deter browsing by deer; but not, perhaps, rhinoceros.

All this has been forgotten, even by professional ecologists. Read any paper on elephants and trees in east Africa and it will tell you that many species have adapted to “hedge” in response to elephant attack. Yet, during a three-day literature search in the Bodleian library, all I could find on elephant adaptation in Europe was a throwaway sentence in one scientific paper. The elephant in the forest is the elephant in the room: the huge and obvious fact that everyone has overlooked.

Since then much of Europe, especially Britain, has lost most of its mesofauna as well: bison, moose, boar, wolf, bear, lynx, wolverine – even, in most parts, wildcat, beavers and capercaillie. These losses, paradoxically, have often been locked in by conservation policy.

Conservation sites must be maintained in what is called “favourable condition”, which means the condition in which they were found when they were designated. More often than not this is a state of extreme depletion, the merest scraping of what was once a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem. The ecological disasters we call nature reserves are often kept in this depleted state through intense intervention: cutting and burning any trees that return; grazing by domestic animals at greater densities and for longer periods than would ever be found in nature. The conservation ethos is neatly summarised in the forester Ritchie Tassell’s sarcastic question, “how did nature cope before we came along?”

Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland 
and theWales Wild Land Foundation)
in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it. Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

The only thing preventing a faster rewilding in the EU is public money.

Farming is sustained on infertile land (by and large, the uplands) through taxpayers’ munificence. Without our help, almost all hill farming would cease immediately. I’m not calling for that, but I do think it’s time the farm subsidy system stopped forcing farmers to destroy wildlife. At the moment, to claim their single farm payments, farmers must prevent “the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land”. 
They don’t have to produce anything: they merely have to keep the land in “agricultural condition”, which means bare.

I propose two changes to the subsidy regime. The first is to cap the amount of land for which farmers can claim money at 100 hectares (250 acres). It’s outrageous that the biggest farmers harvest millions every year from much poorer taxpayers, 
by dint of possessing so much land. A cap would give small farmers an advantage over large. The second is to remove the agricultural condition rule.

The effect of these changes would be to ensure that hill farmers with a powerful attachment to the land and its culture, language and traditions would still farm (and continue to reduce their income by keeping loss-making sheep and cattle). Absentee ranchers who are in it only for the subsidies would find that they were better off taking the money and allowing the land to rewild.

Despite the best efforts of governments, farmers and conservationists, nature is already starting to return. One estimate suggests that two thirds of the previously forested parts of the US have reforested, as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country.


Another proposes that by 2030 farmers on the European continent (though not in Britain, where no major shift is expected) will vacate around 75m acres, roughly the size of Poland. 

While the mesofauna is already beginning to spread back across Europe, land areas of this size could perhaps permit the reintroduction of some of our lost megafauna. Why should Europe not have a Serengeti or two?

Above all, rewilding offers a positive environmentalism. Environmentalists have long known what they are against; now we can explain what we are for. It introduces hope where hope seemed absent. It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.

Coin event – Launch of George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ about rewilding and climate change. from Zoe Broughton on Vimeo.


• A fully referenced version of this article can be found at monbiot.com




By Carl Safina
updated 10:43 AM EST
February 13, 2014

(CNN) -- The Internet has erupted with outrage over the Copenhagen's Zoo's killing of a healthy young giraffe deemed surplus.
Zoos are wholly artificial situations and their animals depend utterly on humans to decide their lives and their fate. That's obvious. Less obvious is that "wild" animals the world over now live in de-natured habitats, where humans also largely decide their lives and fate.

Here where I live on Long Island, New York, townships of the posh East End are asking federal sharpshooters to kill thousands of deer over the next several years. Needless to say, there's been controversy. What does it mean to defend nature in a place like this?

When people say there are "too many" deer, I ask, "Too many for what?"
If the deer ate every grape in every vineyard and every potted plant on every doorstep, I wouldn't want anyone to kill them.
We've put homes and farms onto their world, and I think it cruel of us to want to finish the job by killing what survives.
You don't deserve to eat someone's lunch (or take a life) just because you've spread your blanket over their picnic.
I have no patience for people who want to kill deer because they don't like the way deer fences look. I keep deer off my vegetables with flexible plastic bird netting; it's been 100% effective (and it's nearly invisible). I don't like to see taxpayers subsidizing farmers by killing deer at public expense, rather than farmers erecting fences. I'd rather subsidize fences; we subsidize enough bullets.

But for me as an ecologist, those aren't the issues. The question is: What else is happening to remaining land and wildlife when we've killed all the predators of a large nibbling creature?

I called Marguerite Wolffsohn, a naturalist whom I've known since we were just kids fresh out of college doing temporary nature-center gigs and looking for jobs. She found a job with the East Hampton's town planning department. (East Hampton canceled its intended participation in the deer kill this year because it had insufficient time for procedural requirements.) Better than anyone I know, Marguerite works thoughtfully within the totality of the East End deer proposal, the deer controversy, deer lovers and detesters, and—lest they get left out—the deer themselves.
"People against the plan to shoot deer feel that killing deer is killing nature," she said, "but actually, the deer are killing nature." Wildflowers, forests and other forest wildlife have all suffered, she says. "The huge showy lupine displays of 20 years ago have disappeared. Pink lady's slipper orchids: They're another good example, practically gone." The forested areas of the East End now have very little undergrowth—deer have eaten it.

Wolffsohn's husband, John, a former park ranger and a keenly observing naturalist, added, "I defy you to find a single hickory, sassafras, beech or oak seedling around here."
And along with the demise of the forest understory went the birds who made a living there. "We don't hear hermit thrushes and wood thrushes in the woods behind our house anymore, and very few towhees," Wolffsohn says, "And I wouldn't be surprised if the disappearance of whip-poor-wills here over the last 30 years"—they nest on the ground, in shady areas—"is partly deer-related." Bobwhite quail, common in our youth and also ground-nesting, have also all but disappeared.

Wolffsohn explains that by munching away the forest understory, deer set the stage for an explosion of invasive non-native plants. Garlic mustard is one. "Deer won't eat it and its toxins inhibit other plants, so it just takes over," she says. "Japanese barberry is another." Some birds do eat barberries. Mockingbirds, for instance, rely partly on barberries for winter survival. But the other thing to which barberry bushes give a winter-survival boost is ticks.

Barberry bushes create conditions of moisture favorable to ticks. And high densities of deer directly promote high densities of ticks because deer are suitable hosts for the same ticks that spread very nasty diseases like Lyme and babesiosis to humans.

So, too many deer for what? Too many for forests and for other creatures and for human health.
Ironically, for decades from the mid-1900s through the 1960s, wildlife management was largely focused on reversing the near-extinction of white-tailed deer.

For centuries after Europeans arrived here, deer were shot relentlessly for their value in meat and skin. It's no coincidence that a dollar is called "a buck." Natives had of course hunted them for millennia but never with the thorough efficiency of Europeans.

As weapons improved and farms spread, deer vanished from most of their former range. So did their main predators, wolves. U.S. government agents exterminated wolves south of Canada.

Wildlife managers scrambled to prevent deer extinction while promoting recreational hunting, in part by ruthlessly suppressing wolves and other four-legged hunters.
Without predators, the deer slowly but increasingly did their part, fruitfully multiplying. Then suburbs gave them refuge from human hunters. People had missed deer so much that lawns sprouted statues of deer "families"—proud buck, doe, spotted bambino. Suburbanites were thrilled to glimpse real live ones. For a few years it was a good time to be a deer.

Deer deserve no blame for anything. Deer are innocents in a world we've put out-of-round. We first shot them to pieces and then set them up to explode without check.
We provided incidental safe haven in our neighborhoods and now despise them there. None of the problems people have with deer are the deer's fault. I pity them for the dilemma we've placed them—and ourselves—in. There are too many deer because there are too many people.

Deer do need population control. That, we have in common. But unlike with humans, you can't give fawns the opportunity to go to school and welcome each doe into the workforce and empower them to reduce their lifetime family size to an average of two. But perhaps there's a kinder and gentler way: letting sharpshooters administer birth control hormones rather than bullets?

"That doesn't work," Marguerite says. She e-mailed me the state's deer management document, which says, "Based on considerable research on fertility control for deer ... this strategy has not proven to be a viable, stand-alone option for managing free-ranging deer populations." If you want to bring deer densities down, you have to kill them.

For millions of years, that was the arrangement wrought by the interacting forces of wolves and other creatures, landscapes and deer themselves.
A creature evolved to have two children per year is reliant on predators to keep its world balanced. Without predators in a world of our making, the current density of deer is a problem. And not just for us.
There is no pain-free alternative for the deer themselves. Without being killed by predators or bullets, deer build to densities that suffer high rates of traffic collision and the misery of high winter starvation.

In parts of the West, wolves are returning, with very beneficial re-balancing effects on lands and wildlife. Even there, many people detest wolves with a hatred that is cultural and mainly irrational, largely out of sync with, and wholly out of proportion to, reality.

Giving wolves back their job of managing deer, so difficult out West where there's room, is wholly impossible here. For now, it looks like we're stuck with having to deal lethally with innocents in a problem we've created. It's grim that only the deer will get the shifted blame, take the rap and suffer the consequences. All too human.

Copenhagen's giraffe was deemed "surplus" by the zoo—not enough room, they insisted, for a responsibility of their own creation. Marius the giraffe paid full price in full innocence. But almost anywhere you look now there is less and less room on an ark having trouble floating in a rising sea of us.
And so often, we blame the victims. They say the most intelligent animals are those who recognize themselves in a mirror. We should try it sometime.

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Editor's note: Carl Safina is a MacArthur Fellow, Pew Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow, a professor at Stony Brook University and founding president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include "Song for the Blue Ocean," "The View From Lazy Point" and "A Sea in Flames." He is host of the 10-part series "Saving the Ocean," which can be seen free at PBS.org.



It is not morning in the photo, no commuting is going on, and the only predator responsible for the decline of Bison are humans. 

American Bison
American bison join the morning commute on Hwy. 89 in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. In the early 1800s, about 65 million buffalo roamed North America, but hunting and poaching had a devastating effect on their population. By 1890, fewer than 1,000 remained. Today there are about 4,000 at Yellowstone. The decline of such large such predators is causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.
Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images

A lion sits in its enclosure at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Hythe, England. Humans have touched off the world’s latest mass extinction, according to a report in the journal Science, and the consequences are being felt on land and in water systems as large predators vanish. The dwindling number of predators contributes to the spread of disease, wildfires and invasive species.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A baby wildebeest sleeps at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Hythe, England. A reduction of big herbivores such as wildebeest in East Africa through hunting is a problem, a new report says, because their demise has led to increases in plants that fuel wildfires. The report was conducted by a team of 24 scientists and funded primarily by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A leopard sneaks out from the bush at the Born Free Foundation in the Shamwari Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Gianluigi Guercia / AFP/Getty Images

Gray wolf
A gray wolf at Yellowstone. Since the wolf population has declined, elk and deer have flourished in the park on willow trees and saplings, threatening a crucial part of the forest on which other creatures rely.
Mcneil Lyons / AP

Bull elk
A six-point bull elk scans its surroundings near the Widgi Creek Golf Club in Bend, Ore.
Andy Tullis / AP

Cow-nosed ray
The decimation of sharks along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has allowed their main prey, the cow-nosed ray, to proliferate and dine heavily on the threatened Chesapeake Bay oyster. One million baby oysters placed on an artificial reef in the Great Wicomico River were wiped out in a single day by a school of ravenous cow-nosed rays, surprising the federal agency in charge of the restoration project. "We didn't really know anything about the cow-nosed ray," said Doug Martin, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Norfolk, lead agency for the multimillion-dollar oyster initiative. The rays, commonly found in the bay during summer months, tore like a scythe through the $78,000 in baby oysters planted in June in the Great Wicomico.
Anonymou / AP

Bull shark
A bull shark estimated at 300 pounds circles a boat fishing the the Gulf of Mexico out of Sabine Pass near Port Arthur, Tex.
Pete Churton / AP

Blue whale
In this picture taken on March 26, 2009, shows a blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world,” causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.
Ishara S. KodikaraI / AFP/Getty Images


By Darryl Fears, Published: July 14, 2011 
The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world,” causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.

Humans have touched off the world’s latest mass extinction, according to the report, published Thursday in the journal Science, and the consequences are being felt on land and in water systems as large predators vanish.

“Recent research suggests that the disappearance of these animals reverberates further than previously anticipated,” says the report, “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth.” http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6040/301.abstract
In addition to creating an overabundance of prey, the dwindling number of predators contributes to the spread of disease, wildfires and invasive species.

The decline of wolves in Yellowstone Park is cited as an example of what can happen. Elk and deer in the park once flourished on willow trees and saplings, threatening a crucial part of the forest on which other creatures rely.

The report also mentions the slaughter of lions and leopards by hunters and herders in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of the killings, disease-carrying olive baboons have thrived without their top predators and inched closer to food crops and people.

The decimation of sharks along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has allowed their main prey, the cow-nosed ray, to proliferate and dine heavily on the threatened Chesapeake Bay oyster.

A reduction of big herbivores such as buffalo and wildebeest in East Africa through hunting is also a problem, the report says. Their demise has led to increases in plants that fuel giant wildfires in the dry season.

Americans don’t have to visit federal parks or sub-Saharan Africa or plunge into seas to see the consequences, said Ellen K. Pikitch, a co-author of the report and a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. Many experience the problem every day in their own back yards.

“People who live in North America know it’s hard to grow a garden because deer will eat it,” said Pikitch, a marine biologist. “The lack of wolf populations throughout North America has led to an expansion of the deer population.

“You may hate wolves. You might think they’re dangerous. But without them, the land changes,” Pikitch said. “Deer carry ticks. We humans become more susceptible to diseases such as Lyme disease.”

Wildlife advocates say efforts to protect one species of predator in the United States were set back when the Obama administration signed a bill in April that removed 1,300 wolves from the endangered species list in northern Rocky Mountain states. It was the first time Congress had taken a species off the endangered list. The law allows limited hunting of the animals to begin this summer.

Other studies have examined the collateral damage caused by the near-extinction of large predators and herbivores. But the report in Science is the first to tie together the impact on land animals as well as salt and freshwater marine life, Pikitch said. It was conducted by an international team of 24 scientists and funded primarily by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook.

Much of the science in this area of study has focused on the threat to life at the bottom of the food chain, theorizing that small animals and plants are important because so many creatures rely on their survival.

Although “bottom-up” research is fundamental and important, the report says, “top-down” research deserves wider consideration “if there is to be any real hope for understanding and managing the workings of nature.”

The report acknowledges that top-down research of the food chain is difficult to conduct, noting that it can take decades to measure the effects of the disappearance of large predators.

“The irony . . . is that we often cannot unequivocally see the effect of large apex consumers until after they have been lost” and the ability to restore the species has also been lost, the report says.

Large predators, or apex species, include animals that people adore, such as otters, and others not so popular, such as vultures.

On the Pacific Coast, from Alaska to the southern tip of California, sea otters were hunted in the 1900s to near-extinction for their pelts. Their absence started a chain of events that nearly eliminated the kelp forests that nurture all manner of marine life on the coast.

Sea otters feed on sea urchins, which dine on kelp. Without otters, the sea urchin population exploded. The kelp forest started to disappear. When sea otter populations elsewhere were re-introduced to a few areas along the coast, the kelp started to rebound.

A telling consequences of the absence of large predators can be found on the Scottish island of Rum, where wolves have been gone for more than 250 years and red deer thrive, the report says. The once forested island is now treeless.

7/16/2011 8:41 AM MDT
Any photos used to illustrate this article are appropriate as both biotic and abiotic systems show effect from the presence or loss of apex predators. Robert T. Paine (U of Washington), a co-author of the article, proved years ago the effect of removing a single predator (sea stars) from tide pools. Paine coined the term “keystone species,” and provided a strong foundation for trophic science. In 2006, William J. Ripple (another co-author) and Robert L. Beschta, both at Oregon State U, published an article comparing an area of Zion National Park with nearby North Creek, demonstrating the degradation of habitat, diversity, and stream hydraulics without Puma concolor (mountain lion, cougar) presence to control ungulates. John Terborgh (Duke) and James A. Estes (U CA Santa Cruz), lead authors of the topic article published “Trophic Cascades: Predators, Prey, and the Changing Dynamics of Nature” in 2010.

The facts have been forthcoming for years, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) told us of his coming to understand the role of predators in the maintenance of nature. Yet, our state Fish & Game departments (F&G) and our federal government continue to subsidize the slaughter of apex predators; hunters talk of preserving wildlife while taking trophies of the true protectors of wildlife; and we, the citizens, rest ineffectually with our comfortable mythologies that have nothing to do with preserving our biosphere. 

Independent scientists that publish their studies rely on funding and income, just as the rest of us do. They have personal thoughts about what we ‘should’ do, but as we have politicized action in the US, scientists often silence the ‘should’, citing only the science. It is up to each of us, individually, to understand the meaning and import of studies such as cited in the article, and to take action. Write letters; comment on the import of the science, not the photo editor’s choices; write legislators and administrators to tell them to get aligned with science (or fire them); get involved, or your grandchildren will face a far harsher world than is already coming their way. 

Media, politicians, hunters, ranchers, farmers, F&G and others sell fear of predators. It’s profitable for them. Family dogs kill more people in a year than mountain lions have in 120 years, for instance, yet the profit-seekers howl “public safety” to justify every killing year. Hunting blogs post comments like “if you see a protected wolf, gut-shoot it, they say you can’t kill it, they don’t say you can’t shoot it.” We declared war on top carnivores before our shoes had cleared Plymouth Rock. You and I pay for that stupidity everyday. Worse, the environment that we all depend on is rapidly deteriorating. It doesn’t matter whether it’s man’s fault, if we can slow the degradation, we must.

“Doctor, if this deadly disease is natural and not the fault of man, then I don’t want you to cure me. My politics inform me that if we’re not the cause, we shouldn’t be the cure." Right?

7/15/2011 4:28 PM MDT
The first and last pictures in this slide show baffle me. I think maybe your point is that humans can make species extinct, and we nearly have for some big creatures that everyone will recognize and like. 


John Roach NBC News


A gray wolf stands in Yellowstone National Park. A new study shows that the world's largest carnivores, including wolves, are in decline around the world.

A few years after wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995, fifth-generation Montana rancher Rick Jarrett gave up on the parcel of federal land near Yellowstone National Park that he grazed for 20 years. The carnivores harassed his cattle so much that they stopped gaining weight. Skinny cattle don't sell.

"It wasn't worth being there anymore," he told NBC News. To turn a profit, he now confines his livestock to several thousand acres on and around his ranch in Big Timber, where his cattle and sheep are free to pack on the pounds — for now. The wolves, he said, will eventually get there, too.

While Jarrett is bitter about having to live with wolves, such coexistence is increasingly necessary if the world hopes to reverse a downward spiral of its largest carnivores such as wolves as well as lions, tigers, and bears, according to a review study published Thursday in the journal Science. 

As the carnivores decline, ecosystems and food chains that humans depend on for survival are unraveling and, in many cases, adding to the economic woes of everyone from farmers to ecotourism companies.

"We should be thinking of ourselves in the end because if enough important species go extinct and we lose enough ecosystem services and economic services, then humanity will suffer," William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis and the study's lead author, told NBC News.

What to do?
Ripple and 13 colleagues from around the world found that more than three quarters of Earth's largest carnivores are in population declines. Most occupy only a fraction of their historic ranges and more than half are threatened with extinction.

African lion occupy 17 percent of their historical range and have experienced dramatic population declines due to killing in defense of humans and livestock, according to the study in Science.
Image of African lion
Denis Glennon / Kirstin Abley

The paper's main finding is familiar to wildlife conservationists — large carnivores are in trouble — but pays scant attention to the most important problem: "What are we going to do about it?" Craig Packer, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved with the study, told NBC News.

"I think that is a huge challenge."

Finding solutions is complicated, Ripple noted. The study, he said, is meant to illustrate the plight of carnivores and what humans stand to lose if the creatures go extinct — information that could steer policy via, for example, a global committee focused on carnivore conservation. 

In the paper, the researchers argue that humans are ethically obligated to conserve large carnivores — the animals have an intrinsic right to exist on planet Earth. They then back the argument with examples of the way the role carnivores play in the ecosystem help humans.

In Africa, for example, loss of leopards and lions has translated to an increase in baboon populations, which in turn are raiding farmers' livestock and crops for food. "In extreme cases, the farm family needs to keep their children home to guard the crops instead of go to school," Ripple said.

Other benefits of carnivores noted in the study include control of deer, elk, and moose populations, which in turn keep forest plants healthy for other critters, limit erosion, and enhance water quality. Parks full of wolves and bears also attract tourists, whose dollars boost local economies.

Wolf-specific tourism in Yellowstone National Park, the paper notes, brings in $22 to $48 million per year.

What's more, the scientists add, regions where carnivores keep other animal populations in check are full of plants that soak up carbon from the atmosphere, helping to slow global climate change. Jarrett, the Montana rancher, doubted such arguments would foster better feelings toward wolves.

Sea otters prey on sea urchins, which in turn allow kelp to thrive and soak up carbon, helping mitigate climate change, according to the study.
Sea otter ~Norman Smith

"Granted carbon sequestration is important," he said, "but the benefit we are going to get from wolves … is so insignificant it isn't even funny."

The reality, noted Packer, who is an expert on human-carnivore interactions and deeply involved in African lion conservation, is that humans naturally fear these animals, often for good reason.
"You cannot expect somebody living in rural Africa or rural Asia to risk being eaten by a lion or a tiger so that your moral sense is gratified back in California or Texas or New York," he said. "Conservationists need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons why people want to get rid of these animals."

To reduce human predation on lions, Packer advocates the controversial use of patrolled and maintained fences that serve as a physical barrier between people and wildlife.
Ultimately, he said, the conflict among humans about our relationship with carnivores comes down to emotion versus intellect. While arguments such as carnivores' ability to buffer ecosystems against climate change are "interesting," in the end, he said, emotion usually wins. 

"You have to find ways that people feel safe and that people benefit economically."

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. He started this role in November of 2005. Roach is responsible for environmental coverage on the website. Roach has also contributed to National Geographic News, MSN, and other outdoor and environment related magazines. To learn more about him, visit his website. 



The largest terrestrial species in the order Carnivora are wide-ranging and rare because of their positions at the top of food webs. They are some of the world’s most admired mammals and, ironically, some of the most imperiled. Most have experienced substantial population declines and range contractions throughout the world during the past two centuries. Because of the high metabolic demands that come with endothermy and large body size, these carnivores often require large prey and expansive habitats. These food requirements and wide-ranging behavior often bring them into conflict with humans and livestock. This, in addition to human intolerance, renders them vulnerable to extinction. Large carnivores face enormous threats that have caused massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges, including habitat loss and degradation,persecution, utilization, and depletion of prey. We highlight how these threats can affect theconservation status and ecological roles of this planet’s 31 largest carnivores.

Ecologically important carnivores. Seven species of large carnivores with documented ecological effects involving (A) “tri-trophic cascades” from large carnivores to prey to plants, (B) “mesopredator cascades” from large carnivores to mesopredators to prey of mesopredators, and (C) both tri-trophic and mesopredator cascades. [Photo credits: sea otter (N. Smith), puma (W. Ripple), lion (K. Abley), leopard (A. Dey), Eurasianlynx (B. Elmhagen), dingo (A. McNab), gray wolf (D. Mclaughlin)]

Based on empirical studies, trophic cascades have been documented for 7 of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores (not including pinnipeds). For each of these species (see figure), human actions have both caused declines and contributed to recovery, providing “natural experiments” for quantifying their effects on food-web and community structure. Large carnivores deliver economic and ecosystem services via direct and indirect pathways that help maintain mammal, avian, invertebrate,and herpetofauna abundance or richness. Further, they affect other ecosystem processes and conditions, such as scavenger subsidies, disease dynamics, carbon storage, stream morphology, and crop production. The maintenance or recovery of ecologically effective densities of large carnivores is an important tool for maintaining the structure and function of diverse ecosystems.

Current ecological knowledge indicates that large carnivores are necessary for the maintenanceof biodiversity and ecosystem function. Human actions cannot fully replace the role of large carnivores. Additionally, the future of increasing human resource demands and changing climate will affect biodiversity and ecosystem resiliency. These facts, combined with the importance of resiliente cosystems, indicate that large carnivores and their habitats should be maintained and restored wherever possible. Preventing the extinction of these species and the loss of their irreplaceable ecological function and importance will require novel, bold, and deliberate actions. We propose a Global Large Carnivore Initiative to coordinate local, national, and international research, conservation, and policy.

Science 10 January 2014: 
Vol. 343 no. 6167 
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241484
Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores
William J. Ripple1,*, James A. Estes2, Robert L. Beschta1, Christopher C. Wilmers3, Euan G. Ritchie4, Mark Hebblewhite5, Joel Berger6, Bodil Elmhagen7, Mike Letnic8, Michael P. Nelson1, Oswald J. Schmitz9, Douglas W. Smith10, Arian D. Wallach11, Aaron J. Wirsing12
+ Author Affiliations

1Trophic Cascades Program, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.
3Center for Integrated Spatial Research, Department of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA.
4Centre for Integrative Ecology and School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia.
5Wildlife Biology Program, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula MT, 59812, USA, and Department of Biodiversity and Molecular Ecology, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Via Mach 1, 38010 San Michele all'Adige (TN), Italy.
6Department of Organismic Biology and Ecology, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, and Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY 10460, USA.
7Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
8School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.
9School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.
10Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park, Post Office Box 168, Mammoth, WY 82190, USA.
11School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
12School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
↵*Corresponding author. E-mail: bill.ripple@oregonstate.edu

Received for publication 5 June 2013.
Accepted for publication 18 November 2013.
Read the Full Text
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A Pardon for the Dingo
Richard G. Roberts
Science 10 January 2014: 142-143.
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