My mission statement, of sorts, is I am a professional student saving the planet one carnivore at a time and a scientific review published today in Science (Volume 343) does a pretty good job of explaining why. Carnivores are really cool but the importance of keeping these species’ populations healthy is more important than because they’re badass.
Most of the members of the order Carnivora are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem making them an integral part of the health and well-being of that ecosystem. And, since carnivores exist in almost every habitat on Earth, declines in these species can be seriously detrimental to the condition of our plant. Carnivores play an important role in regulating ecosystem function. Other species, both flora and fauna, rely on carnivores hunting, scavenging, leaving prey remains, etc. whether directly or indirectly. A decline in carnivores has some fairly unexpected effects including changes in biodiversity, disease, and even stream morphology.
Natural ecosystem balance has ebb and flow, but in recent ecological history the ebb is beating out the flow in regards to many carnivore populations. Factors such as human-animal conflict, habitat loss and depletion of prey due to over hunting are changing our planet’s carnivore populations and declines are causing declines in other essential species and increases in destructive ones. This review focused on seven of the 31 large mammalian species of Carnivora (above) which have documented trophic cascades (meaning the predator is responsible for the alteration traits of their prey within a food web – ie the Circle of Life) reporting on the effects each carnivore has on its individual ecosystem. Their conclusions, humans cannot replace carnivores in their role of preserving ecosystem balance and conservation efforts need to be made to prevent further loss or even extinction of such important biodiversity and ecosystem function maintenance species.