Rapid declines of large mammal populations after the collapse of the Soviet Union

Poster Bragina by Roberta Kwok

When a country goes into economic freefall, the resulting chaos can trigger a host of environmental changes. Wildlife regulation often falls by the wayside, and poaching rises — but activities such as logging may drop. “Thus, socioeconomic shocks may hinder or help conservation,” researchers write in Conservation Biology. In the case of the 1991 Soviet Union collapse, which was it? The team studied population trends for 8 mammal species in Russia, including deer, bears, lynxes, and grey wolves. For data, they turned to the Russian Federal Agency of Game Mammal Monitoring’s records. That database contains annual tallies for mammal species, obtained by methods such as counting tracks in the winter and surveying hunters. The researchers studied data from 1981 to 2010, covering the decade before the collapse and the two following decades. Continue reading

Saving large carnivores, but losing the apex predator?

A top predator that must constantly look over its shoulder for fear of human hunters, may not be a top predator any more.

Humans have probably been hunting big, scary predators for as long as we have been human, and for the obvious reasons: They are big. They are scary. And they are competition. The fear goes deep in our culture— the Big Bad Wolf was appearing in folk tales in the early middle ages. When I spent a little time on foot in lion habitat a few years ago, the fear felt even more deeply rooted, down somewhere in my gut. Hunting helps restore our precious illusion of control.

Even today, and even among people who may privately loathe the practice, trophy hunting of top predators can seem like a useful tool. The theory is that trophy fees—$10,000 for a lion, say—help pay to protect habitat and keep out poachers. These fees can also provide economic benefits to local communities. In theory, that increases tolerance among people who still live with large, dangerous animals outside their garden gates. Hunting some species may thus serve as the means to increase their numbers— killing predators in order to save them.

But a new study in the journal Biological Conservation asks whether what’s actually happening is the opposite: These methods may be saving large carnivores numerically, but altering their role as apex predators. A top predator that must constantly “look over its shoulder” for fear of human hunters, Andrés Ordiz and his co-authors suggest, may not be a top predator any more. And the effects of that subtle shift can reverberate through entire ecosystems.

As hunters tend to know too well, even white-tailed deer or Canada geese know what to do and where to avoid when hunting season starts. It’s the same for predators, according to the new study: Brown bears tend to shift their daily foraging and resting routines when human hunters arrive. So do lions. Wolves may actually relocate their breeding sites.

These animals’ natural ecological function as predators is to instill “the landscape of fear” in their prey. But they become victims of that landscape instead, spending more time and energy being vigilant, and less out hunting. That means they may not be as effective at controlling numbers of prey species like moose or elk, according to Ordiz and his co-authors. And that can lead in turn to overgrazing and a cascade of other effects on the habitat.

Over the long-term, persistent hunting may also make the predators themselves less big and bad. The long history of hunting and persecution in Europe may be one reason, the study suggests, that European brown bears are not nearly as fierce as grizzlies in North America, though they are the same species, Ursus arctos. “Long-term, human-caused selection may explain the reduced aggression of brown bears towards people, their nocturnal behavior, and their higher investment in reproduction,” the authors write.

When I reached him by phone at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ordiz said that hunters’ preference for large male trophies can have dramatic and destructive social effects, too. When a big brown bear is shot, for instance, infanticide increases over the next two years as other males move in to court the female.

The same thing happens with lions, Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota’s Lion Research Center told me several years ago, when I interviewed him about his research in Tanzania. A young male may take the place of a hunting victim long enough to begin a new litter, said Packer, who is not connected to the study. That new father then needs to stick around to protect those cubs for another two years. But a lot of younger males lack the moxie to hold off challengers. Social upheaval often ensues, with one male after another fathering cubs, but faltering as their protector, and none of the litters ever reaching maturity.

The new paper does not advocate a hunting ban. Controlled, licensed hunting of predators may still be a better alternative than leaving a habitat open to poachers, said Ordiz. (He also noted that his two co-authors have at times been hunters, though of prey species, not predators.) Instead, the paper urges conservationists to start thinking beyond mere predator numbers, to larger ecological effects.

The authors also make recommendations for managing large predators more thoughtfully. Among them: Establish core areas or large-carnivore reserves where predators can be predators, without fear of hunting. In places where hunting is allowed, limit it by space and season to minimize the ecological effects. And end or limit trophy hunting based on traits like the lion’s mane or the Kodiak bear’s size.

These traits—status symbols, social dominance, size, and a little raw ferocity—are the very things that enable these animals to function as big, scary predators in the first place.

Source: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/10/25/surprising-reason-hunting-wolves-and-bears-can-damage-habitats


Reference: Ordiz, A., Bischof, R. & Swenson,J.  Saving large carnivores, but losing the apex predator? Biological Conservation 168 (2013) 128–133

Some general management recommendations arise from our current understanding of large carnivore ecology. We recognize that it will often be difficult to implement them and that they must be adjusted for species-specific and regional contexts. Nevertheless, we include these recommendations to highlight aspects of large carnivore management that managers should consider.

1. Given the role of large carnivores in ecosystem functioning, establish core areas or large-carnivore reserves within large landscapes where human hunting is excluded.

2. Human hunting of ungulates can help control them numerically, especially in areas lacking natural predators, but hunting does not replace the indirect effects of natural predation (see above). In places where large carnivore hunting is deemed necessary, limit hunting in space and time to allow natural interactions and their ecological impacts, at least in large protected, less human-dominated areas.

3. Prevent or limit trophy hunting of large carnivores when based on traits that are linked with their performance as apex predators (such as physical size, age or dominance).

4. Set higher thresholds and use greater selectivity when targeting ‘‘problem’’ animals. Targeting animals of certain sex and age limits may be feasible for some large felids with conspicuous physical characteristics (e.g. Whitman et al., 2004, see Section 5), but field determination of sex or age for wolves or bears during hunting situations is usually unrealistic. When possible, limited removal of young (subprime) or transient animals would be better than removal of prime, dominant resident individuals, which often have disproportional ecological effects.

5. Show considerable care when targeting individuals in breeding packs. Alternatively, avoid interfering with the social structure of group-living carnivores by targeting solitary individuals rather than members of a group (see Brainerd et al., 2008).

Free Book: “Conservation Biology for All”


Oxford University Press makes conservation biology textbook by some of the world’s most prominent ecologists and conservation biologists available as free download

Conservation Biology for All provides cutting-edge but basic conservation science to a global readership. A series of authoritative chapters have been written by the top names in conservation biology with the principal aim of disseminating cutting-edge conservation knowledge as widely as possible. Important topics such as balancing conversion and human needs, climate change, conservation planning, designing and analyzing conservation research, ecosystem services, endangered species management, extinctions, fire, habitat loss, and invasive species are covered. Numerous text boxes describing additional relevant material or case studies are also included.

The global biodiversity crisis is now unstoppable; what can be saved in the developing world will require an educated constituency in both the developing and developed world. Habitat loss is particularly acute in developing countries, which is of special concern because it tends to be these locations where the greatest species diversity and richest centers of endemism are to be found. Sadly, developing world conservation scientists have found it difficult to access an authoritative textbook, which is particularly ironic since it is these countries where the potential benefits of knowledge application are greatest. There is now an urgent need to educate the next generation of scientists in developing countries, so that they are in a better position to protect their natural resources.


  • Provides an invaluable toolkit for a large and under-resourced audience of students in developing nations
  • Includes contributions from the top names in conservation biology who have contributed specific “hot topics” including tropical deforestation, invasive species, climate change, and ecosystem functioning
  • Addresses the key issues in conservation biology, clearly stating the challenges but also offering solutions


“If a book could receive a standing ovation – this one is a candidate. Sodhi and Ehrlich have created a comprehensive introduction to conservation biology that is accessible intellectually, and financially, to a broad audience – indeed it is conservation biology for all . The quality and clarity of the writing makes this book an invaluable asset to the conservationist’s toolbox.”–Ecology

Conservation Biology for All is a textbook that aims to be a one-stop shop for conservation education. The book is packed with information, is wide ranging, and includes most emerging issues that come under the umbrella of conservation biology today. Does the book live up to its “for all” title? In it entirety it does, and I challenge any reader not to find something useful and relevant in it.”–Trends in Ecology and Evolution

About the Editors

Navjot S. Sodhi is currently a Professor of Conservation Ecology at the National University of Singapore. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada). He has been studying the effects of rain forest loss and degradation on Southeast Asian fauna and flora for over 13 years. He has published over 100 scientific papers in international and regional scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Annual Review of Ecology, Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, and Biodiversity and Conservation. He has written/edited several books/monographs such as Tropical Conservation Biology (2007, Blackwell). He has also spent time at Harvard University as a Bullard Fellow (2001-02) and Hardy Fellow (2008-09) where he now holds an adjunct position. He currently (or has been) is an Associate Editor/Editor of prestigious journals such as Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, Animal Conservation, the Auk and Biotropica.

Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and professor of biology at Stanford University and a Fellow of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics. His research has ranged from the evolution of DDT resistance in fruit flies, the theory of systematics, the dynamics of butterfly populations, and the behavior of birds and reef fishes to the conservation of mammal populations and human cultural evolution. He is co-founder of the field of coevolution. He is the author or co-author of over 40 books, and some 1000 scientific papers and articles. Ehrlich is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and past president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and a recipient of numerous international honors, including the Crafoord Prize (given by the Royal Swedish Academy as an explicit equivalent of a Nobel in fields where the Nobel is not given) and a MacArthur “genius award”.

Other authors

Andrew F. Bennett
Barry W. Brook
Brett P. Murphy
C. Anne Claus
Cagan H. Sekercioglu
Carlos A. Peres
Clinton N. Jenkins
Corey J. A. Bradshaw
Curt Meine
Daniel Simberloff
David M. J. S. Bowman
David. S. Wilcove
Denis A. Saunders
Joshua Ginsberg
Kai M. A. Chan
Kevin J. Gaston
Lian Pin Koh
Madhu Rao
Stuart L. Pimm
Terre Satterfield
Thomas Brooks
Thomas E. Lovejoy
Toby A. Gardner
William F. Laurance


Free full-text download | Buy print copy

Chapters – free download

Front materials [PDF – 135 KB]
Introduction Navjot S. Sodhi and Paul R. Ehrlich [PDF – 181 KB]

  1. Conservation biology: past and present Curt Meine [PDF – 268 KB]
  2. Biodiversity Kevin J. Gaston [PDF – 420 KB]
  3. Ecosystem functions and services Cagan H. Sekercioglu [PDF – 373 KB]
  4. Habitat destruction: death by a thousand cuts William F. Laurance [PDF – 643 KB]
  5. Habitat fragmentation and landscape change Andrew F. Bennett and Denis A. Saunders [PDF – 348 KB]
  6. Overharvesting Carlos A. Peres [PDF – 273 KB]
  7. Invasive species Daniel Simberloff [PDF – 1,694 KB]
  8. Climate change Thomas E. Lovejoy [PDF – 195 KB]
  9. Fire and biodiversity David M. J. S. Bowman and Brett P. Murphy [PDF – 748 KB]
  10. Extinctions and the practice of preventing them Stuart L. Pimm and Clinton N. Jenkins [PDF – 352 KB]
  11. Conservation planning and priorities Thomas Brooks [PDF – 520 KB]
  12. Endangered species management: the US experienceDavid. S. Wilcove [PDF – 294 KB]
  13. Conservation in human-modified landscapes Lian Pin Koh and Toby A. Gardner [PDF – 681 KB]
  14. The roles of people in conservation C. Anne Claus, Kai M. A. Chan, and Terre Satterfield [PDF – 346 KB]
  15. From conservation theory to practice: crossing the divide Madhu Rao and Joshua Ginsberg [PDF – 470 KB]
  16. The conservation biologist’s toolbox – principles for the design and analysis of conservation studies Corey J. A. Bradshaw and Barry W. Brook [PDF – 289 KB]

Download the FULL TEXT

Source: http://www.mongabay.com/conservation-biology-for-all.html