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Predicting the influence of wolf-provided carrion on scavenger community dynamics under climate change scenarios

Authors

  • CHRISTOPHER C. WILMERS,

    1. Department of Biology, Penn State University 208 Mueller Lab, University Park, PA, 16802, USA
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    • 1

      Present address: Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

  • ERIC POST

    1. Department of Biology, Penn State University 208 Mueller Lab, University Park, PA, 16802, USA
    2. Penn State Institutes of the Environment, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802 USA
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Christopher C. Wilmers,
e-mail: cwilmers@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Climate change poses an immediate threat to the persistence and distribution of many species, yet our ability to forecast changes in species composition is hindered by poor understanding of the extent to which higher trophic-level interactions may buffer or exacerbate the adverse effects of warming. We incorporated species-specific consumption data from 240 wolf-killed elk carcasses from Yellowstone National Park into stochastic simulation models to link trends in the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to food procurement by a guild of scavengers as a function of gray wolf reintroduction. We find that a shift in ENSO towards the El Niño (warming) phase of the cycle coincident with increasing global temperatures reduces carrion for scavengers, particularly those with strong seasonal patterns in resource use such as grizzly bears. Wolves alleviate these warming-induced food shortages by rendering control over this crucial resource to biotic rather than abiotic factors. Ecosystems with intact top predators are likely to exhibit stronger biotic regulation and should be more resistant to climate change than ecosystems lacking them.

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