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New research by scientists from Germany, Italy, and the Institute of Mammal Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża delves into the impact of large predators versus human activities on European ecosystems. Contrary to common belief, human activities, such as hunting, may have a more significant influence on herbivore populations than the presence of predators, according to the study.
Predators vs. Human Influence:
While previous studies supported the intuitive notion that large predators control herbivore populations, the recent publication in the “Journal of Applied Ecology” challenges whether large predators still fulfill their ecological roles in heavily human-dominated ecosystems.
The research covered nearly 500 selected areas across 28 European countries. Scientists investigated the influence of large predators, including wolves, lynxes, and bears, on deer populations. Simultaneously, they explored human interventions in these areas, particularly hunting.
The study revealed that deer population density decreased only when wolves, lynxes, and bears coexisted in a given area. The presence of individual predator species had minimal impact on deer density. In contrast, human activities, especially hunting, exhibited a substantial negative effect on deer density, surpassing the impact of all large predators combined.
Implications and Recommendations:
Researchers suggest that if society aims to allow natural regulatory mechanisms, such as large predators controlling herbivore populations, human influence on ecosystems must be curtailed. The return of large predators, particularly wolves, to European landscapes is deemed a natural process that should be embraced for its ecological benefits.
Dr. Dries Kuijper from the Institute of Mammal Research emphasizes the diverse viewpoints surrounding the return of large predators to Europe. Ecologists see it as a success in conservation efforts, potentially restoring natural processes, while opponents raise concerns about conflicts, such as wolves preying on livestock. Dr. Kuijper advocates recognizing the value of this return and allowing nature to manage itself.