Apex Predators

One species of animal can greatly influence an entire ecosystem. This cascading effect that can occur can even change the geography of an area, showing the extent of influence an animal can hold in an ecosystem.

A video has recently gone viral which shows how the introduction of wolves into an ecosystem actually changed a river’s path. This video is entitled How Wolves Change Rivers. In this video a man describes how wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park in the United States, and, through this reintroduction of a species into an ecosystem, how the wolves led to an increase in vegetation, and the eventual change in course of a river. Although many people are aware that wolves kill other animals, most are unaware that they can give life. Yellowstone Park was overpopulated with deer and these deer had grazed all of the vegetation, leaving bare flat lands. In this case study the wolves ate the dear in the park, which led to less deer, and made the remaining deer avoid the wolf populated areas. These avoided areas then experienced a rapid increase in vegetation growth, creating forests in places which once only held grass. Due to the increase in trees there was an increase in beavers because, well, beavers like trees. These beavers are ecosystem engineers and they in turn built dams which provided shelter for countless other species. The wolves also killed coyotes and this meant that there was an increase in mice, rabbits, hawks, weasels, foxes, badgers, ravens, and bald eagles. Now not only was there a massive increase in species throughout the park, but the river running through the park experienced less erosion, the channels narrowed, and pools formed due to the increase in vegetation and the stabilization of the river banks that this vegetation provided. The river itself changed. This process is known as a tropic cascade.

The concerning issue about this case study is the fact that wolves are only one apex predator in the world: lions in Africa, tigers in Asia. Sharks, bears, and wild dogs are example of species at the top of their particular food chains, stabilizing the ecosystem and species they live and prey on, and influencing the health of plants and animals all the way to the bottom of the tropic ladder.

The truly disturbing part is that a majority of these apex predators are facing a decline in population numbers, potentially endangering the ecosystems where they reside.

This calls for change. It’s time for us, as humans, to change our overall perception of predators. We cannot condone the mass culling of sharks as has recently been approved in Western Australia. Stop the poaching of Tigers in Asia. No more habitat destruction in Sub Saharan Africa that decimates lion populations.

Human/wildlife conflict is going to occur as population growth happens around the world. Humans need to change and start living with wildlife if we want to protect the beautiful, useful, and essential ecosystems around the world.

FYI: The picture is of a river that runs through my cottage a.k.a. The Farm, in Elphin, Ontario

Photo Cred: Anton Holland

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

5 thoughts on “Apex Predators

  1. Great post Ben. I’d be interested to know what kinds of solutions you think there are under the umbrella of “changing our overall perception of predators”. What do you think this will look like to create lasting change?

    • Hi Erin! Thank you for the reply.

      Now I know the way I phrased it was pretty general, but the fact is that change will most likely come in the form of many different improvements that relate to many different apex predators, or, the change is case specific.

      For example, Sharks are extremely important apex predators in marine ecosystems. They balance and affect most of the marine life below them. If sharks were to be removed from the ecosystem, the consequences would be astounding and potentially catastrophic. Sharks are also very misunderstood. Many people are afraid of sharks and around 70 million of them were killed last year due to a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was for “beach/public safety”(!?) in Australia. I believe the amount of human fatalities due to shark attacks in the same year was approximately 15 in the entire world, and 2 in Australia. Not 15 million, 15 people. These deaths are still tragic, but when a person chooses to go swimming in a wild life location they need to accept that there is a risk associated with this that they need to take. I mean there is a greater chance of getting in a car accident and dying on your way to the beach then there is of even seeing a shark at the beach (I read that somewhere but I do not remember the source: sorry). Change that needs to occur in this instance would be to stop the mass culling of sharks just for “beach safety”, and to remove the Western Australian government’s state policy that allows people to kill sharks willy-nilly.

      The point is that apex predators are extremely important, and yet the overall perception of apex predators is one that seems to believe these creatures can be killed/removed from an ecosystem at whatever rate or extent, and that there will be no consequences. In many cases greater protection of these predators is needed through improved regulations, stricter enforcement, and more awareness.

      Hope this helps!


  2. Pingback: We Should Welcome Cougars Back | Essex on Lake Champlain

  3. I openly admit u know very little about aquatic life but… How can you accept the introduction of wolves to cull deer but not the culling of sharks. In your opinion, are ‘men’ permitted to affect the natural destruction of an area (such as a park) or should we simply let nature take it course? If you can ethically accept that we have an architecture role (maybe even responsibility) then I am not sure we should be able to pick and choose only certain species for cull.

    • In my opinion, introducing wolves into an area is not culling, as culling means “a selective slaughter of wild animals”. The wolves did not only choose to eat the deer, the deer were just a very good option for them as they were so abundant. The wolves also ate other animals in the park.

      The main reason we would choose to have an architecture role for nature is if it is in ‘our’ (the world’s) best interest to change what is happening. If deer are overpopulated and destroying a park then yes, I believe we should change the course that nature is taking.

      In addition, most scenarios where there is ‘natural’ destruction the ‘natural’ is actually caused by humans. For example, in Yellowstone the wolves were eliminated back in 1926 by humans, which led to the deer overpopulation, which led to the over grazing of the vegetation, and so on. It was our duty to correct our mistake of killing the wolves, and to reestablish the equilibrium in the park.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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