Ecosystem disruption is, of course, not limited to the disappearance of top predators.
The loss of any species has an impact on healthy habitat function, including the oft-despised scavengers. Last year, we wrote about the fate of the vulture in South Asia. Like sharks and raptors, vulture populations have plummeted as a result of poisoning which primarily contributed to the loss of over 14 million birds.
As outlined earlier, the status of wolf populations in the United States was jeopardized in the early twentieth century. As wolves disappeared, elk populations, along with other grazers, increased unchecked. Aspen, cottonwood, and willow tree stability fell, affecting the smaller mammals and birds that relied on them.
The carcasses left behind by wolves were also of critical importance to scavenger species, like coyotes, ravens, and eagles, particularly during the winter. With no wolves around, these species suffered as well. Happily, wolves are an example of how humans can also positively affect the fate of a species. In , the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery team devised a plan to help reintroduce wolf populations to the northern United States. In , the U.
Under the plan, with support from federal funding, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks manages wolves in northwestern Montana. As of , approximately wolves are estimated to live in the state. A crucial step in setting up a successful conservation program is constructing a robust method to monitor how many specimens are in a given area. Monitoring involved a variety of methods, including radio telemetry, howling and track surveys, and reports from natural resource agency professionals.
Encouraging people to share any sightings or evidence of wolf activity, program officials essentially crowd-sourced the monitoring project. Officials set up a website to allow members of the public to report their sightings easily and efficiently.
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Using these methods, officials determined that , by the end of , there were a total of 46 packs, defined as consisting of two or more wolves, with a minimum of wolves in Montana. The average number of wolves per pack also increased from 4. The Montana program is an excellent example of not only how successful conservation programs can be, but also how members of the public can play a critical role in that success. Learn more about the recovery program and the results in BHL.
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Predators are critical for healthy ecosystems, ensuring that a greater variety of species survive and thrive by keeping prey populations in check. While many predator species are threatened today, our wolf use case shows us that there is hope. If we are proactive, conservation programs are capable of ensuring a positive future for these and other species.
Increasing awareness about the effect of species decline is a critical step in saving biodiversity. By providing free access to literature about these species, BHL is helping conservations, ecologists, and researchers gain the critical knowledge they need to protect and bolster these populations. You can help support our endeavors with a donation to BHL.
Remember, each person can make a difference, and unless we act now, the future for many of these creatures, and our own planet, may be quite bleak. In this capacity, she developed and manages BHL's communication strategy, oversees social media initiatives, and engages with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL.
That's a good question.
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If conservation efforts were combined with protected areas as they often are in marine fishing environments , you would expect the success rate to be significantly higher than simply establishing a protected area. Conservation doesn't have any easy answers. Multiple approaches are needed to ensure species survival. What if conservation efforts were geared towards protecting keystone predators of ecosystems, instead of just establishing protected areas? Would these methods be more efficient in protecting biodiversity? Yes, it is a shame to see the delicate balance of nature so disrupted.
The plight of the lions has become a highly-publicized tragedy, and fortunately many organizations are now working to combat the forces threatening them. Only time will tell if, as in the case of the wolf, these efforts will result in the salvation of this species. Well this has been reaffirmed to me by several friends from Africa.
One family from Sierra Leon said that ecosystems there do not behave the same. Lions at one time were the top preditor, but their removal has emboldened the Baboons who now freely and boldly raid crops and villages everywhere. They told me this was not the case when Lions existed as a natural resident. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Jonathan Ruppert of the University of Toronto, in Canada, and his colleagues reached this conclusion by studying data on shark activity around two groups of coral reefs between Indonesia and Australia.
They gleaned their information from baited underwater video stations and also from records collected from those reefs between and by the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
They have just published their results in the Public Library of Science. The reef-groups in question, known as the Scott Reefs and the Rowley Shoals, are close to each other. They experience similar sea temperatures. And both were hit by powerful cyclones and affected by coral bleaching in the mids. One, however, turned out to be rich in fish species whereas the other is impoverished, and the one with more species seemed to recover faster from the storms and the bleaching.
Dr Ruppert believes these differences are the result of the presence in one, and the absence in the other, of sharks. The impoverished group, the Scott Reefs, has been fished for centuries by people interested in catching sea cucumbers, certain snails and sharks—all of which are internationally traded and fetch high prices. In recent decades the demand for sharks, in particular, has boomed, as China has grown richer and its citizens have been supping more shark-fin soup. The Rowley Shoals, by contrast, are a protected area where all fishing is prohibited.
Sharks and wolves: Predator, prey interactions similar on land and in oceans
But what did surprise Dr Ruppert and his colleagues was exactly how that diversity was diminished. For besides the species that fishermen are hunting silvertip and grey reef sharks were three times as common around the Rowley Shoals as around the Scott Reefs , many other sorts of animal had suffered.
This was not because they were being caught accidentally. Sea cucumbers and snails are hand-picked by divers, and sharks are caught on lines, rather than in nets, with bait that attracts only carnivores.
All this means there is little bycatch. Yet the Scott Reefs also lacked herbivorous species such as parrotfish, though midsized predators, like snappers, were more abundant than in the Rowley Shoals. Hence the reduced numbers of parrotfish. Their absence, however, has knock-on effects. Seaweed grows more thickly without parrotfish constantly gnawing at it. That growth smothers young coral and probably, though Dr Ruppert cannot prove it in this particular case, makes it harder for reefs to recover from cyclones and bleaching.
Healthy reefs, then, seem to need sharks in the way that healthy forests need wolves. But Mother Nature prefers it that way. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today.