In Yellowstone National Park, the return of wolves has contributed to aspen and willow restoration, stabilized carrion availability for scavengers like grizzly bears and magpies, and has increased carbon storage by allowing plants to flourish.
But beyond the large carnivore conservation successes of the Northern Rockies, carnivore populations are declining worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa. These declines are mostly due to habitat loss, overhunting and trade of endangered wildlife parts.
"We haven't yet untangled all the ways in which these large carnivore population declines will play out in the future but we know they will have profound ecosystem impacts," Berger said.
Hebblewhite and Berger agree that lessons learned from carnivore reintroduction in the Northern Rockies can serve as a model to the rest of the world. At UM, training international students in large carnivore conservation is a key focus.
Wildlife biology doctoral student Tshering Tempa currently applies some of these advances in carnivore science and conservation to Bengal tigers in his home country of Bhutan.
"Conservation has to be underpinned by sound science," Tempa said. "In Bhutan, there is a real chance of ensuring that large carnivores and their prey persist perpetually. I am applying the skills I have learned at UM to contribute toward this."
With looming threats to global distributions of large carnivores, Hebblewhite concludes that more science is needed to better understand all the benefits of every large carnivore species, which human activities are most in conflict with large carnivores, and what management activities will have the most impact on sustaining large carnivore populations.
|Contact: Mark Hebblewhite|
The University of Montana