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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Keystone Predators and Ecosystems

Keystone Predators and Ecosystems

Grey wolf howling (credit: Wiki-commons)


Illustrating how ecological principals function in an ecosystem could include examples like mangroves protecting both coastlines and serving as fish nurseries or showing how the productivity of sediments deposited by river deltas flowing off one landscape feeds another. Apex predators and their vital roles is a further example.

Wolves had been extinct from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for nearly a century until being re-introduced in 1995. Trapped in Canada, multiple grey wolves were released into Yellowstone's remote Lemar Valley and their affects were monitored through extensive ecological field studies. Restoring the top predator to its original ecosystem changed the populations of elk, deer, coyote, bears, birds, aspen trees, and even willows growing along the valley's winding river system.

Effects to both the animal and plant communities was remarkable, unexpectedly rapid, and surprised even the monitoring biologists. In less than 20 years, initial ecological stability was regained and continues to spread outward to other areas of the Park as the wolves migrate there. They were the missing 'keystone species' needed for the sustainability of a fully-functioning ecosystem to re-emerge.

Experience with the wolves serves as a lesson and a model for what could be realized elsewhere if other ecological restoration projects were initiated. WHB

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