Tag Archives: predation

Quantifying the Effect of an Invader

The Raccoon Dog, an alien species, has made its way to Sweden recently. But what sort of effect does it have on the native fauna?

The Raccoon Dog, an alien species, has made its way to Sweden recently. But what sort of effect does it have on the native fauna? (Image Credit: Prue Simmons, CC BY 2.0)

Nest predation by raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides in the archipelago of Northern Sweden (2018) Dahl & Åhlen, Biological Invasions, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-018-1855-4

The Crux

We’ve spoken about biological invasions at length on EcolMass, and the detrimental effects that the arrival of a new species can have on native populations. Yet eradication is often impossible, and management expensive, so before taking extensive action, it’s always important to ensure that an alien species IS having a negative effect.

The raccoon dog is an Asian species, closely related to foxes, that was introduced to Europe in the early 20th century and has since spread into Scandinavia. Voracious predators that could spread further north due to climate change, our paper this week looks at the extent of their impact on the ecosystems they’ve spread to.

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Whom to Blame – Cats or Rats?

Feral cats are responsible for the decline of many endemic species worldwide. But will removing them boost rat populations, causing more potential harm?

Feral cats are responsible for the decline of many endemic species worldwide. But will removing them boost rat populations, causing more potential harm? (Image Credit: Brisbane City Council, CC BY 2.0)

Trophic roles of black rats and seabird impacts on tropical islands: Mesopredator release or hyperpredation? (2015) Ringler et al., Biological Conservation, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.12.014

Guest post by Bart Peeters

The Crux

For centuries, rats have been portrayed as carriers of diseases and death; whereas our feline friends, worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, will definitely make your YouTube video go viral (a quick Google search of “cat video” shows 1 310 000 000 results). Both have been introduced, either accidentally or deliberately, to islands where endemic species have evolved and adapted to an environment without these generalist predators. So how do you know if eradicating one of them will make things better for the native wildlife?

Before taking radical conservation actions, it may be a good idea to understand how feral cats (the apex predator), rats (the mesopredator) and their common prey are affecting each other. Namely, if you kill all the cats, will there be more rats to prey on seabirds? On the other hand, will killing all the rats really reduce the predation by cats on seabirds?

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Finding the Key to Reef Shark Conservation

Reef accessibility impairs the protection of sharks (2018) Juhel et al., Journal of Applied Ecology 55

Species such as this Carribean reef shark have higher extinction risks than most fish. But how effective are our management efforts?

Species such as this Carribean reef shark have higher extinction risks than most fish. But how effective are our management efforts? (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

The Crux

The importance of sharks goes well beyond what Jaws did to Hollywood, or one week in the USA each July. In any reef ecosystem, sharks perform a key functional role, exerting top-down pressure, stabilising food webs, and improving general ecosystem functioning. They’re also ‘charismatic’ species, meaning they’re easier to raise funding for, and bring money in through tourism. Yet pressure from fishing suggests that reef shark populations may be under threat, and with high body sizes and long lifespans, their populations are more sensitive than most to overfishing, making extinction risks higher.

Yet the lack of data on shark populations means that the effectiveness of the few existing management programs is largely untested. This paper looks at Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), areas in which national or international bodies prevent fishing or even entry, to see whether or not they are an effective conservation method for shark populations.

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Scared to Death

Fear and lethality in snowshoe hares: the deadly effects of non-consumptive predation risk (2018) MacLeod et al., Oikos 127(3)

Fear itself of a predator is enough to reduce populations of a snowshoe hare, show Macleod at al.

Fear itself of a predator is enough to reduce populations of a snowshoe hare, show Macleod at al. (Image Credit: Dave Doe, CC BY 2.0)

The Crux

When we think of a predator-prey relationship, many colorful examples of charismatic animals come to mind: the lion and the wildebeest, the orca and the seal, the owl and the mouse. We think of these organisms locked in an endless battle, with one needing to catch and eat, the other to escape and live. While these are definitely interesting and important aspects of the predator-prey relationship, prey species need to worry about more than just being eaten. These “non-consumptive effects” play into what is called the Ecology of Fear.

This study was an attempt to show that the perceived risk of predation itself was enough to reduce survival in prey species. Unlike previous studies on this question, MacLeod et al. were the first to conclusively show this effect in mammals.

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Getting Better May Get You Eaten

Immune response increases predation risk (2012) Otti et al., Evolution 66

Fighting off an infection can use up valuable energy, and also change behaviour, which can lead to enhanced risk of predation

Fighting off an infection can use up valuable energy, and also change behaviour, which can lead to enhanced risk of predation (Image Credit: Gilles San Martin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Crux

Parasites and diseases cause a lot of problems for their hosts, stealing resources like blood, food and energy. But fighting off parasites is also a costly process, so hosts have to walk the thin line between using just enough resources to fight off the parasite and using too many, leaving them with nothing. The amount a host invests in their immune response will depend on the specific environment that they live in. For example, in an environment where resources are plentiful, a host may decide that it is worth shaking off a parasite or disease. In areas where resources aren’t, they may choose to save energy.

Introducing predation to a situation further complicates things. Having a lot of predators around naturally means energy conservation becomes even more important. This study examines the risk of predation for an organism that is fighting off an infection.

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