Research ArticleECOLOGY

Outsized effect of predation: Wolves alter wetland creation and recolonization by killing ecosystem engineers

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Science Advances  13 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 46, eabc5439
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc5439

Abstract

Gray wolves are a premier example of how predators can transform ecosystems through trophic cascades. However, whether wolves change ecosystems as drastically as previously suggested has been increasingly questioned. We demonstrate how wolves alter wetland creation and recolonization by killing dispersing beavers. Beavers are ecosystem engineers that generate most wetland creation throughout boreal ecosystems. By studying beaver pond creation and recolonization patterns coupled with wolf predation on beavers, we determined that 84% of newly created and recolonized beaver ponds remained occupied until the fall, whereas 0% of newly created and recolonized ponds remained active after a wolf killed the dispersing beaver that colonized that pond. By affecting where and when beavers engineer ecosystems, wolves alter all of the ecological processes (e.g., water storage, nutrient cycling, and forest succession) that occur due to beaver-created impoundments. Our study demonstrates how predators have an outsized effect on ecosystems when they kill ecosystem engineers.

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