CORVALLIS, Ore. A survey done on the loss in the Northern Hemisphere of large predators, particularly wolves, concludes that current populations of moose, deer, and other large herbivores far exceed their historic levels and are contributing to disrupted ecosystems.
The research, published today by scientists from Oregon State University, examined 42 studies done over the past 50 years.
It found that the loss of major predators in forest ecosystems has allowed game animal populations to greatly increase, crippling the growth of young trees and reducing biodiversity. This also contributes to deforestation and results in less carbon sequestration, a potential concern with climate change.
"These issues do not just affect the United States and a few national parks," said William Ripple, an OSU professor of forestry and lead author of the study. "The data from Canada, Alaska, the Yukon, Northern Europe and Asia are all showing similar results. There's consistent evidence that large predators help keep populations of large herbivores in check, with positive effects on ecosystem health."
Densities of large mammalian herbivores were six times greater in areas without wolves, compared to those in which wolves were present, the researchers concluded. They also found that combinations of predators, such as wolves and bears, can create an important synergy for moderating the size of large herbivore populations.
"Wolves can provide food that bears scavenge, helping to maintain a healthy bear population," said Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus at OSU and co-author of the study. "The bears then often prey on young moose, deer or elk in Yellowstone more young elk calves are killed by bears than by wolves, coyotes and cougars combined."
In Europe, the coexistence of wolves with lynx also resulted in lower deer densities than when wolves existed alone.
In recent years, OSU researchers have helped lead efforts to
|Contact: Bill Ripple|
Oregon State University