The Rise of the Mesopredator

Abstract

H have persecuted apex predators for millennia. From wolves (Canis lupus) in Asia, North America, and Europe to jaguars (Panthera onca) in the Americas and lions (Panthera leo) and wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Africa, these efforts have resulted in the complete eradication or severe range reduction of large carnivores throughout the world (Gittleman et al. 2001). People try to eradicate apex predators for many reasons, but perhaps the most important motivator is simply that they compete with us for food. In North America, for example, predator control was widely practiced without restraint until the 1970s to increase the availability of wild game for human hunters and to reduce losses of domestic livestock (Sterner and Shumake 2001). In fact, government-sponsored predator control programs are still in place today (Brady 2007). The decimation of wolves and bears (Ursus spp.) in North America allowed populations of large game such as elk (Cervus canadensis) to flourish (Smith et al. 2003). However, populations of smaller game, such as pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), did not always increase after the removal of top predators, and in fact they sometimes declined precipitously (Berger et al. 2008). Such counterintuitive observations have led ecologists to ask whether the persecution of apex predators actually causes some prey populations to decline. Research into these trophic mysteries during the past 20 years has revealed strong links between top predators and smaller “mesopredators” that offer an explanation for many of these unforeseen outcomes. Traditional food-web ecology has focused on direct interactions among organisms representing three trophic levels. Predators, perched at the top of the food chain, eat prey ani mals situated one trophic level down, which in turn consume plants, the building blocks of the ecosystem (Hairston et al. 1960). However, real food webs are typically complicated by a network of direct and indirect interactions, by hierarchies among species within trophic levels, and by omnivorous species that simultaneously extend across multiple trophic levels. Such complexities often confound our best efforts to anticipate how wildlife populations and communities will respond to human intervention (Polis and Strong 1996). While mounting evidence suggests that apex predators can benefit prey populations indirectly by suppressing smaller predators, failure to consider this common interaction has caused some conservation efforts to backfire (Rayner et al. 2007) and has even triggered collapses of entire ecosystems (Terborgh et al. 2001, Myers et al. 2007). If we are to better predict the consequences of predator management, it is critical that we understand the dynamics of intraguild relationships among predators. Here, we present an overview of “mesopredator release,” the ecological phenomenon that frequently occurs when topdown control of predators is removed. We begin by defining mesopredator release—what is a mesopredator, exactly, and how do we know when it has been “released”? We discuss the global extent of mesopredator release, its consequences for people and ecosystems, and the trade-offs and limitations of current efforts to manage predators. We then illustrate the association between apex predator declines and mesopredator overabundance using North American terrestrial mamThe Rise of the Mesopredator

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@inproceedings{Prugh2009TheRO, title={The Rise of the Mesopredator}, author={L R Prugh and Chantal Stoner and Clinton W. Epps and William T. Bean and William J Ripple and Andrea S. Laliberte and Justin Brashares}, year={2009} }