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Keywords:

  • Canada lynx;
  • coyote;
  • elk;
  • gray wolf;
  • scientific evidence;
  • snowshoe hare;
  • trophic cascade;
  • Yellowstone National Park

Abstract

Ripple et al. (2011) proposed a hypothesis that the recovery of gray wolves (Canis lupus) may positively affect the viability of threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) populations in the contiguous United States through indirect species interactions. Ripple et al. (2011) proposed 2 key trophic linkages connecting wolf restoration with lynx recovery. First, recovering wolf populations may benefit lynx through reduced interference and exploitative competition with coyotes (C. latrans). Second, recovering wolf populations may benefit lynx through reduced exploitative competition among ungulates and snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), the primary prey of lynx. Both proposed linkages have weak or contradictory empirical support in the available literature on lynx–hare ecology, casting doubt on the utility of Ripple et al.'s (2011) hypothesis. Debate over Ripple et al.'s (2011) hypothesis demonstrates the importance of experimental or comparative documentation when proposing trophic cascades in complex food webs. In this case, publishing unsupported opinions as hypotheses that concern complex trophic interactions is a potential disservice to lynx conservation through misallocated research, conservation funding, and misplaced public perception. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.