How Wolves Change Rivers – A Lesson in BioDiversity

May 5, 2014

We know that one of the key negative effects of climate change will be increased rates of species extinction.  Climate deniers like to laugh at this, as if the disappearance of other life forms, like Polar Bears, has no effect on things we care about. But the more we follow the strands of life’s web, the more connections we find to everything else in the system.

TreeHugger:

It might not seem obvious at first, but wolves can have a huge indirect effect on ecosystems. They aren’t just good for reducing deer populations and such; they fundamentally change how these herbivores behave, where they graze and which areas they avoid. This means that trees and plants start growing again in places that were overgrazed, giving shelter to all kinds of species (songbirds, beavers, rabbits). This in turns changes how the local ecosystem works further, providing more ecological niches to more species, until after a few years the area is almost unrecognizably more alive! All this thanks to wolves, this underrated apex predator!

African Shark Eco-Charters Blog:

Sharks exhibit a top down control on an ecosystem, if you remove them you disrupt the whole balance of nature. In 2005 a Mexican/US research team was able to study a  particular area around a coral reef where sharks were hunted to local extinction to make it more tourist friendly. Seemed like a good idea, until the ecology of the coral suddenly all died within a year.
The study showed that the reef sharks preyed on octopus, and so kept the population quite low, when the sharks were taken away the octopus thrived and in turn killed off their own prey the urchin. this then caused the urchins competitor the star fish to grow in population because they had no competition for space and the star fish killed all the coral reef.

 

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11 Responses to “How Wolves Change Rivers – A Lesson in BioDiversity”


  1. A nice video – only spoilt by the idiotic comments below.

    About the only deniers these day are those who still deny the pause and deny the climate models failed to predict the climate.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    I wonder what Scottish Skeptic meant by “nice video”? Nice scenery? Nice animal shots? Point a camera in any direction at Yellowstone and you get pics worth keeping. Since Yellowstone is one of my favorite places, and I have been visiting it and studying it for nearly 50 years, this post brought a smile to my face. The increasingly positive impact of wolves on Yellowstone’s ecology has been evident for years, and that’s why we fought so hard to have them reintroduced. (Although I’m not sure they were really gone for as long as they thought—-I’m sure I saw one in the back country in 1966, in spite of the rangers laughing at me and saying “coyote”, as if I didn’t know the difference.)

    This video does a great job of explaining the “trophic cascade” effect that has occurred to the benefit of all living things in the Yellowstone ecosystem. It was a positive cascade in Yellowstone, but can be negative if certain organisms are removed, as the shark story illustrates nicely.

    And I wish these low-IQ trolls that keep popping up here would try to match the talking points they pluck from their Idiot Deniers Handbook with the topic of the particular thread. There is NO connection between this post and the tired old BS he gave us about the “pause” and climate model “failures”. What will we hear in Scottish S-head’s next comment?—-“It’s the sun?”, “It’s Al Gore’s fault”?

  3. Phillip Shaw Says:

    It seems that more often than not, when we tweak imperfectly understood complex systems the Law of Unintended Consequences bites us in the ass – so I find it heartening that the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction has had such positive results. I wonder if the proponents of it foresaw most or all of what happened.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “I wonder if the proponents of it foresaw most or all of what happened”?

      The short answer is Yes. Although Ecology didn’t start to become a “hot” area of study until man’s impact on the biosphere became obvious in the ’50’s and ’60’s, predator-prey and trophic cascade relationships have been fairly well-known for a long time. Ecologists may not know the exact details, time lines, and mathematics, but they DO understand the process well enough—-Yellowstone was an ideal place to re-establish wolves, and little has happened that wasn’t understood beforehand.

      Aldo Leopold and others were pushing as early as 1940 for wolf restoration in national parks and wilderness areas large enough to sustain them. In places like Idaho where the “conservatives” rule, wolves had been successfully reintroduced (and spread from remnant populations) and are now being slaughtered because they are interfering with rancher’s bottom lines by occasionally killing some livestock. Many of these ranchers run their stock on public land and pay minimal “rent”—-another case of utilizing the public’s property for private gain.


  4. […] We know that one of the key negative effects of climate change will be increased rates of species extinction. Climate deniers like to laugh at this, as if the disappearance of other life forms, like Polar Bears, has no effect on things we care about. But the more we follow the strands of life’s web, the more connections we find to everything else in the system.  […]


  5. calm down people, relax your nerves. If you ”predict” only doom and gloom – backfires on your nerves and good sleep… (p.s. if you ”predict” something positive = you will be more convincing) because: one extinction always follows by two new species. in nature there is always good side and bad side. with you guys… all is negative… I feel sorry for you…

    2] the number of polar bears is increasing, not decreasing

    3] human competes for the same food that the sharks eat – therefore: if human doesn’t get the sharks number down -> they overpopulate much more, comparing to pray = all is pray to sharks, will be all extinct BOO!!!

    • dumboldguy Says:

      It appears that we have attracted a bunch of high school age trolls lately. Stefan certainly sounds like one with “calm down people, relax your nerves”, his childish optimism, and his ignorance of science. It appears also that English is his second language, and that may account for his incoherence.

      “one extinction always follows by two new species”?
      “in nature there is always good side and bad side”?
      I feel sorry for stefan….being that ignorant must be painful.

      “the number of polar bears is increasing, not decreasing….”
      Cherry-picked truth—only some populations are increasing. The overall trend is downward, and the loss of sea ice due to AGW has destroyed their habitat to the extent that polar bears have been classified as ‘threatened”. The long term outlook points towards extinction (or close to it).

      “human competes for the same food that the sharks eat – therefore: if human doesn’t get the sharks number down -> they overpopulate much more”
      Stunningly ignorant—-man is “winning” stefan’s imagined battle with the sharks to the extent that most shark species are threatened with extinction.

  6. rayduray Says:

    Gosh, I have to wonder about the English. George Monbiot constant refers to “the deer” in this video while in all but about one 2 second shot, the animals shown while Monbiot says “deer” are elk.

    And indeed it largely is the wolf predation on the Yellowstone elk herds that took the elk out of the riparian environments and allowed the willows, cottonwoods and aspen to revive to a more robust state along the river courses.

    Here’s an article covering much of the same content as does the video.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140710.htm

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Don’t worry about the English too much—-anything that looks like a “deer” IS a deer to them—-elk (Wapiti), moose, caribou—-all would be “deer” there. And I think the word itself originally meant any wild four-legged animal that was hunted, as opposed to domestic animals that were all called “cattle” (even sheep and horses).

      PS They don’t have all that many “deer” in the UK anyway, and most species there are non-native.

      PPS Have never been to the UK, but I’d worry more about them driving on the left side of the road—-THAT’S weird, and nearly got me killed in Bermuda, where an encounter with a ship-jumping American cat while riding my moped turned out badly.

    • Phillip Shaw Says:

      Just FYI – elk are ‘deer’, i.e. cervidae, as are moose, caribou, and reindeer. You’ll be better off leaving the picking of nits to lower primates.

  7. Kiwiiano Says:

    It’s not often I’m moved to tears by a video on the net. Rage & frustration often, but it’s really nice to hear a success story. Monbiot must have enjoyed narrating it, it’s one of his favourite subjects.


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