Carnivores play an integral role maintaining healthy ecosystems by regulating deer and elk, as well as smaller mammal, populations. Most of these species need large areas of land to meet all of their food and habitat requirements. For this reason, carnivores, especially wide-ranging species such as grizzly bears, are considered “umbrella” species. By protecting large wild areas for predators to live and roam, we are, in effect, saving a place for many more animal and plant species.
Yet, sustained lethal control, as well as trophy hunting of some of these species, have had a devastating impact on the environmental health of the North American continent. Biologists have found that many large native carnivores are “keystone species,” and play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological integrity and preserving species diversity. The disappearance of a keystone species triggers the loss of other local species, and the intricate connections among the remaining residents begin to unravel. Species losses cascade and multiply throughout the ecosystem in a “domino effect.” In the words of conservation biologist John Terborgh, “Our current knowledge about the natural processes that maintain biodiversity suggests a crucial and irreplaceable role of top predators. The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.”
Simply put, by protecting top and mid-level carnivores, we protect the health of natural biological systems upon which many other species depend.
MORE ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF CARNIVORES
Science Daily, October 25, 2006
Cougar Predation Key To Ecosystem Health
National Geographic, April 26, 2005
Without Top Predators, Ecosystems Turn Topsy-Turvy
LiveScience, July 19, 2006
Top Predators Key to Ecosystem Survival, Study Shows
Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2005
Next phase in protecting species: living with them
LiveScience, April 25, 2005
Without Sharks, Food Chain Crumbles
MORE SCIENCE ABOUT CARNIVORES
Cougar Management Guidelines for North America
Cougar Population Dynamics and Viability in the Pacific Northwest
Ecological Meltdown in Predator-Free Forest Fragments
The Importance of Large Carnivores to Healthy Ecosystems
TIME, August 23, 2004, Saving the Big Cats
Coyotes in Our Midst- Coyotes in Our Midst: Coexisting with an Adaptable and Resilient Carnivore by Camilla H. Fox and Christopher M. Papouchis. Published by the Animal Protection Institute, Sacramento, California. 2005.