Ecological Importance of Wild Carnivores

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Ecological Importance of Wild Carnivores

By Brian Vincent
August 2008

Carnivores (cougars, coyotes, bears, wolves) 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.

Photo by Jim Robertson

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.

For more information about helping wildlife, visit Big Wildlife

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