"The Carnivore Way" could be key to large predator conservation

May 2, 2014 by Nick Houtman

North America's mountainous backbone, stretching from Mexico to Alaska, could serve as a model for balancing the needs of large predators and people, an Oregon State University biologist suggests in a new book.

In "The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America's Predators," published May 1 by Island Press, Cristina Eisenberg describes the ongoing efforts of humans to coexist with wolves, cougars, wolverines and other species in a largely wild but developing landscape.

Eisenberg, who grew up in a hunting and ranching family in northern Mexico, is an instructor in the Oregon State College of Forestry, a Smithsonian research associate and an Earthwatch scientist. She obtained her doctorate and completed two post-doctoral fellowships at Oregon State.

From her home in northwestern Montana, where grizzlies and wolves outnumber people, she traveled more than 13,000 miles – from the Arctic to northern Mexico – to trace corridors that link carnivores with the habitats they need to thrive. She met with scientists who studied these animals and with officials who found ways to conserve grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and other species. She talked with conservationists who hiked the trails and documented challenges to predators and their prey.

"Large carnivore conservation is ultimately about people," Eisenberg wrote. "Science and environmental law can help us learn to share landscapes with fierce creatures, but ultimately coexistence has to do with our human hearts."

For Eisenberg, it also has much to do with ecosystems. Wildlife scientists have documented the crucial role that large carnivores play in shaping forests and rangelands, she said.

"When you're out there on the ground and a wolf shows up or a cougar shows up and starts doing what they do, you have these 'aha' moments," Eisenberg said. "What I'm doing in 'The Carnivore Way' is providing a lot of stories and examples. There's a massive amount of science in the book, but in the end, it's sharing those 'aha' moments that help people connect with these animals."

In a world in which ecosystems are reeling from climate change and other human influences, she said, wolves and other carnivores can restore resilience that benefits the resources that people depend on. By maintaining a role for carnivores, ecosystems are more likely to rebound in the face of drought, fire and other disturbances linked to a changing climate.

"Scientists studying ecosystems worldwide have found that carnivores indirectly improve the health and vigor of plant communities by reducing the density of their prey and in some cases by changing prey behavior," said Eisenberg. "In many places in North America, for example, by preying on elk, wolves reduce the browsing pressure that elk place on plants. This enables trees and shrubs to grow to maturity and provide habitat for many other species, such as songbirds."

Eisenberg's research on the effects of predators on ecosystems has been supported by Parks Canada and the High Lonesome Ranch, which occupies 400 square miles in western Colorado. She and Oregon State co-investigator David Hibbs recently obtained Earthwatch Institute funding that will support their research on wolves, elk, and fire for several years. Articles featuring her research have appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times, High Country News and other outlets.

In 2010, Island Press published her previous book, "The Wolf's Tooth," which describes the ecological roles of large carnivores. She is writing a book on , "Taking the Heat: Wildlife, Food Webs, and Extinction in a Warming World," also for Island Press.

Explore further: Prey not hard-wired to fear predators

Related Stories

Prey not hard-wired to fear predators

June 20, 2007

Are Asian elk hard-wired to fear the Siberian tigers who stalk them? When wolves disappear from the forest, are moose still afraid of them?

Return of top predators is key to ecological future

April 23, 2010

Sufficient advances have been made about the importance of top predators in ecosystem function that it's time to move from discussing the issue to acting upon it, a conservation biologist from Oregon State University suggests ...

Loss of large carnivores poses global conservation problem

January 9, 2014

In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, dingoes, wolves, otters, and bears is changing the face of landscapes from the tropics to the Arctic – but an analysis of 31 carnivore species ...

Isle Royale wolf decline boosts moose

April 30, 2014

A scientific report says the wolf population of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior is dangerously low for the third consecutive year, while moose numbers are steadily rising.

Recommended for you

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.