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Trophic control of mesopredators in terrestrial ecosystems: top-down or bottom-up?

Authors


* E-mail: steven.rushton@newcastle.ac.uk

Abstract

It has been argued that widespread extinctions of top predators have changed terrestrial ecosystem structures through mesopredator release, where increased abundances of medium-sized predators have detrimental effects on prey communities. This top-down concept has received much attention within conservation biology, but few studies have demonstrated the phenomenon. The concept has been criticized since alternative explanations involving bottom-up impacts from bioclimatic effects on ecosystem productivity and from anthropogenic habitat change are rarely considered. We analyse the response of a mesopredator (the red fox) to declines in top predators (wolf and Eurasian lynx) and agricultural expansion over 90 years in Sweden, taking bioclimatic effects into account. We show a top-down mesopredator release effect, but ecosystem productivity determined its strength. The impacts of agricultural activity were mediated by their effects on top predator populations. Thus, both top-down and bottom-up processes need to be understood for effective preservation of biodiversity in anthropogenically transformed ecosystems.

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