The web of fear of large carnivores has cascading effects down the food chain.
The fear of large predictors like lions and wolves is deeply rooted in humans and other animals and a latest study suggests that this ‘web of fear’ is important for protecting an ecosystem.
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A team of researchers led by Western University has found that top predictors not just kill their prey but also paint a landscape of fear and this fear has cascading effects down the food chain required for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
For the first time, researchers have demonstrated this fear in an experiment. In Gulf Islands, there is a large population of wild raccoons and dogs are the main predators of those raccoons. Researchers have found simply hearing the recording of dogs barking keeps raccoons away from the shoreline for several miles. That, in turn, helps crabs and fish population to thrive. These animals are commonly consumed by raccoons.
“These results have critically important implications for conservation, wildlife management and public policy,” said wildlife ecologist Liana Zanette. “We have now experimentally verified that by instilling fear, the very existence of large carnivores on the landscape – in and of itself – provides an essential ecosystem service and failing to consider fear risks dramatically underestimates the role large carnivores play in structuring ecosystems.”
Raccoons in British Colombia’s Gulf Islands eat just everything in sight because most of the large carnivores that prey raccoons like cougars and wolves are disappeared a century ago. Due to that, raccoons are having very little fear.
To experimentally generate fear, researchers played the threatening sounds of large predators from speakers along shoreline for month at a certain time. The fear of large carnivores despite the fact they were not present there reduced the forging time of raccoons by 66 percent. The study also reflects that the loss of the large carnivores is detrimental for various ecosystems and we need to conserve animals not just because they are precious but also for the reason that they can help maintain a system.
“When it comes to conserving biodiversity and maintaining healthy ecosystems, fear has its uses. By inspiring fear, the very existence of large carnivores on the landscape can provide a critical ecosystem service human actions cannot fully replace, making it essential to maintain or restore large carnivores on for conservation proposes on this bases alone.” Study concludes.
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