- by Jessica Ramos
- October 17, 2014
What‘s a Trophic Cascade?
According to Nature, trophic cascades are totally indirect interactions. In mother nature’s perfect balancing act, big, scary predators “limit the density and/or behavior of their prey.” Naturally, prey don’t want to hang around what’s trying to eat them, so they’ll change where they’re going or their behavior to avoid them.
These indirect changes help the trophic level below survive. Ironically, often the prey’s prey gets a better chance to survive, so the original prey has their predator to thank for lunch. These interactions will trickle, or cascade, down the rest of the food chain. Trophic cascades are happening all around us; they can occur in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.
The Wolves of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park was wolfless for seventy years. The deer had a ball without their predators around. They could graze wherever, whenever and as much as they liked. Because of this imbalance, Yellowstone National Park’s vegetation became almost nonexistent. But when a few wolves were reintroduced into the park, exciting things started happening.
According to Sustainable Man, the presence of wolves changed deer behavior. They started avoiding areas like valleys and gorges because they were most vulnerable to attack there. Vegetation had a chance to bounce back, and forests started looking like forests again.
Forests full of trees brought the birds and beavers back. Busy beavers built habitats for a host of other animals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Wolves also controlled the coyote numbers. Fewer coyotes meant more mice and rats. Birds of prey, weasels, badgers and foxes followed their food. Bald eagles, bears and ravens would feast on wolf leftovers.
Pretty cool stuff, right? But this is where it gets really surprising. The presence of wolves changed the park’s physical geography. When the forest got a break and got to bounce back, the river banks became more stable. Rivers didn’t have to meander as much and pockets of habitats emerged for wildlife.
Wolves Are Misunderstood
Despite the important role that wolves play, many would rather get rid of them. Idaho has plans to senselessly massacre wolves and other wildlife during its shooting derby. Angry ranchers want revenge for the livestock that wolves killed. Hunters want the prized head of a wolf mounted on their wall or want to eliminate their “competition” for prey. The general public fears the elusive predator that many haven’t seen, but have grown to fear through childhood stories.
Once upon a time, hundreds of thousands of wolves roamed across the United States. But as our population grew, their numbers and habitat began to shrink. We also justified the massacre of wolves by reducing these highly intelligent animals with complex social networks to vermin and pests. Their federal protection status as endangered is still shaky. According to Defenders, where wolves aren’t protected, hunting and trapping are the most common causes of death.
The world of the wolf is shrinking right before us. Luckily, filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher took it upon themselves to live with a pack of wolves that they raised as pups, known as The Sawtooth Pack, to give us a glimpse of the hidden lives of wolves that go beyond ferocious predator. Let the pack be ambassadors for their species.
The presence of wolves has the power to change an entire ecosystem. For environments to thrive, wolves just have to be wolves. Now the bigger question is: will we ever change and let them?
take action NOW!
Demand Federal Protection of Wolves and coyotes in Idaho and Worldwide
- target: Idaho Federal Government Legislators