Large Predators Are Showing Up In Unexpected Places

Posted: May 10 2018, 4:50am CDT | by , Updated: May 10 2018, 7:24am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Large Predators are Showing up in Unexpected Places
Credit: Brian Silliman

Predators like alligators and lions are recolonizing ecosystems that used to be their natural habitats before humans drove them to near-extinction

Many large predators have been spotted in the places where we least expect them. Basically, animals like alligators, mountain lions and killer whales that were almost driven to extinction are now rebounding and showing up in their original habitats. This contradicts the popular idea that recovering populations expand their ranges and colonize new habitats in search of food.

“We can no longer chock up a large alligator on a beach or coral reef as an aberrant sighting,” said Brian Silliman, a professor at Duke University. “It’s not an outlier or short-term blip. It’s the old norm, the way it used to be before we pushed these species onto their last legs in hard-to-reach refuges. Now, they are returning.”

When researchers analyzed data from recent scientific studies and government reports, they found that alligators, sea otters, and many other large predators are not venturing into new habitats. Instead, they are recolonizing the ecosystems that used to be their prime hunting grounds and are now populated by humans.

In another surprise, researchers discovered that animals are far more adaptable to new habitats than previously thought. Many large animals including an alligator, sea otters, gray whales, orangutan and bald eagles are now more abundant in unusual habitats than what we consider to be their traditional territories. For instance, alligators in seagrass ecosystems now mostly eat marine species such as stingrays, sharks, shrimps, horseshoe crabs, and manatees, showing that gators are well-adapted to life in a saltwater habitat.

“The assumption, widely reinforced in both the scientific and popular media, is that these animals live where they live because they are habitat specialists. Alligators love swamps; sea otters do best in saltwater kelp forests; orangutan need undisturbed forests; marine mammals prefer polar waters,” said Silliman. “But this is based on studies and observations made while these populations were in sharp decline. Now that they are rebounding, they’re surprising us by demonstrating how adaptable and cosmopolitan they really are.”

The finding suggests that animals do not need specific environments to live and thrive. The remarkable adaptability of these species provides more opportunities for conservation.

“It tells us these species can thrive in a much greater variety of habitats. Sea otters, for instance, can adapt and thrive if we introduce them into estuaries that don’t have kelp forests. So even if kelp forests disappear because of climate change, the otters won’t,” said Silliman. “Maybe they can even live in rivers. We will find out soon enough.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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