ScienceDaily (Aug. 30, 2011) — As wolf populations grow in parts of the West, most of the focus has been on their value in aiding broader ecosystem recovery — but a new study from Oregon State University also points out that they could play an important role in helping to save other threatened species.
In research published in Wildlife Society Bulletin, scientists suggest that a key factor in the Canada lynx being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is the major decline of snowshoe hares. The loss of hares, the primary food of the lynx, in turn may be caused by coyote populations that have surged in the absence of wolves. Scientists call this a "trophic cascade" of impacts.
The increase in these secondary "mesopredators" has caused significant ecosystem disruption and, in this case, possibly contributed to the decline of a threatened species, the scientists say.
"The increase in mesopredators such as coyotes is a serious issue; their populations are now much higher than they used to be when wolves were common in most areas of the United States," said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at OSU.