Should Carnivores Guide Conservation Efforts?

bird of prey

Predators have long been considered the best determinants of an ecosystem's biodiversity and thus have often been the primary focus of conservation efforts. Birds of prey, wolves and other top predators typically require large areas to live and robust prey populations. The idea was that ecologists should devote their energy and resources to saving those groups of species whose diversity best reflects that of their habitat — hence efforts benefiting the predators would benefit the other populations as well.

A team of ecologists led by the University of Helsinki's Mar Cabeza has now taken exception to this guiding rule, arguing that the studies that have sought to reinforce this idea have been too narrow in focus and that — in general — predators provide an uneven picture of biodiversity. "To suggest that top predators make good biodiversity indicators when the research was conducted on raptors alone in a small region is dangerous. We must conduct further studies before making any recommendations," said Cabeza.Because some predators often turn to several trophic levels of the food chain — consuming insects, rodents or other animals based on their availability — they can survive in deteriorated ecosystems that have lost much of their original biodiversity, Cabeza discovered. While many conservation plans have so far focused on predators — the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, for example, seeks to protect areas populated by grizzly bears, lynx and wolves — new initiatives underway in countries like South Africa are shifting their attention to areas with rich plant and insect populations instead.

Fabrizio Sergio, an ecologist at Spain's Doñana Biological Research Station and a supporter of predator-led conservation efforts, agreed that more caution should be employed before extrapolating the results of a few studies to all ecosystems. Examining the link between predators and their habitat's biodiversity should be conservationists' main objective, he argued. "They are looking at the application and we are looking at the biology. You cannot put the cart before the horse."

Whatever it takes, gentlemen: just save as many of those species as you can!

Via ::Nature News: Should meat-eaters guide conservation? (news website)

See also: ::Whale Conservation Beached (Again), ::FLICK OFF: New Website Promoting Conservation, ::Why Conservation Is the World's Best Energy Source
Image courtesy of e³°°° via flickr

Tags: Biodiversity | Conservation | Ecology

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