MISSOULA New research co-written by University of Montana scientists finds steep declines in the worldwide populations and habitat range of 31 large carnivore species. The analysis, published Jan. 9 in Science, shows that 77 percent of the studied species including tiger, lion, dingo and puma are decreasing in number.
Associate Professor of ungulate habitat Mark Hebblewhite and John J. Craighead Chair and Professor of Wildlife Conservation Joel Berger, both of the UM College of Forestry and Conservation, co-wrote the study with scientists from Oregon State University, the University of California, Yellowstone National Park, University of Washington, Yale University and researchers in Australia, Italy and Sweden.
The study shows that 17 of the species occupy less than half their normal habitat range. These changes have serious environmental consequences, the authors argue.
Large carnivores are vulnerable to extinction because of their low population densities and their need to roam widely to search for food. These animals are essential to the health of an ecosystem and also provide social and economic benefits for humans.
"Ecosystems depend on large carnivores to control herbivores like deer and populations of smaller carnivores," Hebblewhite said. "We suggest that losing a population of large carnivore doesn't just impact that species, but an entire landscape."
Further declines in the populations of these large carnivores will lead to changes in plant species diversity, biomass and productivity. These vegetation changes will have a wide-ranging influence on other species. Carnivore losses also will impact wildlife disease dynamics, wildfire and carbon sequestration.
Hebblewhite points to several success stories, like the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park, potential delisting of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies and the Global Tiger Initiative, to demonstrate that reintroducing and recovering carniv
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The University of Montana