CORVALLIS, Ore. There may be many similarities between the importance of large predators in marine and terrestrial environments, researchers concluded in a recent study, which examined the interactions between wolves and elk in the United States, as well as sharks and dugongs in Australia.
In each case, the major predators help control the populations of their prey, scientists said. But through what's been called the "ecology of fear" they also affect the behavior of the prey, with ripple impacts on other aspects of the ecosystem and an ecological significance that goes far beyond these species.
The study was done by scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Washington, and was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a professional journal.
"For too long we've looked at ecosystem functions on land and in the oceans as if they were completely separate," said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems at Society at OSU, and an international expert in the study of large predators such as wolves and cougars.
"We're now finding that there are many more similarities between marine and terrestrial ecosystems than we've realized," Ripple said. "We need to better understand these commonalities, and from them learn how interactions on land may be a predictor of what we will see in the oceans, and vice versa."
In this study, Ripple and collaborator Aaron Wirsing, a researcher with the School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, compared what has been learned about wolf and elk interaction in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. to the interplay of tiger sharks and dugongs in Shark Bay, Australia. Dugongs are large marine mammals, similar to manatees, that feed primarily on seagrasses and are a common prey of sharks.
In studies with elk, scientists have found that the presence of wolves alters their behavior almost constantly, as they tr
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Oregon State University