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!

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