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The Importance of Large Carnivores to Healthy Ecosystems

abstract1 (full description below): Endangered Species Update 18: 202-210. 2002
Large Carnivores. PDF/Acrobat file  

Land managers often are responsible for the maintenance of species diversity and resilience. This requires knowledge of ecosystem dynamics over decades and centuries. Resource-driven(bottom-up) models have guided early thought on managing species and ecosystems. Under this paradigm, carnivores have little ecological value, and throughout the 20th Century carnivore management strategies (often extirpation) have reflected that concept. An alternative hypothesis, however, states that herbivores reduce the biomass of plants, but in turn, the biomass of herbivores is checked by the presence of carnivores. As such, carnivores have great ecological value. Their predation activities create impacts that ripple downward through the trophic levels of an ecosystem. Here we discuss some potential pathways through which carnivores contribute to ecosystem processes and species diversity. The subtleties of these interactions have strong implications for management strategies of carnivores. Without considering these indirect impacts, short-sighted management strategies to reduce carnivores might cause extensive and long-term changes in ecosystem structure and function.