The Collapsing Ecosystem: What Happens During a Predatory Decline
Some of the world’s top predators are in the midst of fighting a losing battle. Wolves, lions and sharks are amongst those who are endangered, heavily hunted or poached, and quickly losing numbers.
Since these big-time predators are falling in numbers, it has led to a major increase of mesopredators, or smaller predators, like foxes and snakes. These increases have also lead to large ecological and economic problems, with few solutions in sight. In North America, for example, all of the top predators have been on the decline for the past 2 centuries; whereas 60% of the mesopredator population has been rising at an alarming rate. In Africa, the lion and leopard populations have been outnumbered by baboons. And a declining shark population means a rise in stingrays, which in turn causes a collapse in the fishing industry.
Climate change, hunting and habitat loss have all contributed to these strange fluctuations in the predator populations. Many people see killing things like wolves as a “good” thing; they figure it will eliminate a threat to them and their livestock (even though there has never been a documented case of a healthy wolf attacking a person). However, by downsizing the number of wolves, ranchers and farmers are letting the coyotes come straight to their doorstep. This leaves them with yet another predator to deal with, and if the coyotes end up being removed as well, I am sure another animal will step in to take their place.
This goes to show that taking an “easy” or simple-minded route is not always a good thing. With large numbers of the apex predators out of the way, it gives more room for mesopredators to move in and take over; and they have proven to be much more resilient to man’s “population control” efforts.
Another thing that people fail to realize is that most of the large predators are actually helping nature when they hunt. An apex predator usually will target animals that are really old, young, sick or weak, thereby doing the herd a favor rather than harm. By eliminating the weaker animals of a herd, it allows for the stronger animals and bloodlines to continue to reproduce and perpetuate the cycle, giving their prey a better chance of survival. And let’s not forget the biggest reason that predators hunt anything to begin with: Survival. They do not have the option to go shopping at the local grocery store, or turn to a vegetarian diet.
n the case of humans, they will kill a wolf because it took their sheep, or they will chase after a strong, healthy buck because of the number of points it has on its antlers; hardly logical or worthwhile reasons when compared to apex predators. If anything, human intervention in this kind of situation seems to be more to blame than just allowing nature to take its course.
“We are just barely beginning to appreciate the impact of losing our top predators,” said William Ripple, a professor of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. And that is a real shame. Everything affects everything else, and as such, depends on everything else to survive. If enough of these predators are eliminated, how long will it be before humans become an endangered or extinct species?
By Heidi Marshall