The ecological services provided by carnivores are multifarious. Carnivores control herbivores to the relief of plants, mitigate global warming, enhance biodiversity, restore rivers and streams, and regulate wildlife disease and livestock disease spillover.
However, many of the largest carnivores are listed as threatened on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and most are still declining in number. These 'top or apex predators' have one great competitor: humans.
The authors note that "large-carnivore population declines are typically precipitated by multiple, and sometimes concurrent, human threats including habitat loss and degradation, persecution, utilization (such as for traditional medicine, trophy hunting or furs), and depletion of prey."
Oregon State University professor and lead author of the paper, William J. Ripple said, "Globally, the ranges of carnivores are collapsing and many of these species are at risk of either local or complete extinction. It is ironic that large carnivores are disappearing just as we are learning about their important ecological and economic effects."
Looking to the future, the scientists expect that the loss of apex predators will bring degradation to ecosystems that include reductions in plant diversity, biomass and productivity as well as wide-ranging impacts to other species. Greater rates of herbivory and concurrent decline of plant species may hasten global warming and desertification.
Critical to living with carnivores, the scientists conclude, is an understanding of the benefits they provid
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Wildlife Conservation Society