Carnivore Repatriation And Holarctic Prey: Narrowing The Deficit In Ecological Effectiveness
July 6, 2019
The continuing global decline of large carnivores has catalyzed great interest in reintroduction to restore populations and to reestablish ecologically functional relationships. I used variation in the distribution of four Holarctic prey species and their behavior as proxies to investigate the pace and intensity by which responses are lost or reinvigorated by carnivore repatriation. By simulating the presence of wolves (Canis lupus), tigers (Panthera tigris), and brown bears (Ursus arctos) at 19 transcontinental sites, I assayed three metrics of prey performance in areas with no large terrestrial carnivores (the polar islands of Greenland and Svalbard), extant native carnivores (Eastern Siberian Shield, boreal Canada, and Alaska); and repatriated carnivores (the Yellowstone region and Rocky Mountains). The loss and reestablishment of large carnivores changed the ecological effectiveness of systems by (1) dampening immediate group benefits, diminishing awareness, and diminishing flight reaction in caribou (Rangifer tarandus) where predation was eliminated and (2) reinstituting sensitivity to carnivores by elk (Cervus elaphus) and moose (Alces alces) in the Yellowstone region to levels observed in Asian elk when sympatric with Siberian tigers and wolves or in Alaskan moose sympatric with wolves. Behavioral compensation to reintroduced carnivores occurred within a single generation, but only the vigilance reaction of bison (Bison bison) in Yellowstone exceeded that of their wolf-exposed conspecifics from boreal Canada. Beyond these overt responses by prey, snow depth and distance to suitably vegetated habitat was related to heightened vigilance in moose and elk, respectively, but only at sites with carnivores. These findings are insufficient to determine whether similar patterns might apply to other species or in areas with alien predators, and they suggest that the presumed excessive vulnerability of na¨ıve prey to repatriated carnivores may be ill-founded. Although behavior offers a proxy to evaluate ecological effectiveness, a continuing challenge will be to understand how na¨ıve prey respond to novel or introduced predators.
Author(s): Joel Berger