Conservation challenges of predator recovery

Predators are critical components of ecosystems. Globally, conservation efforts have targeted depleted populations of top predators for legal protection, and in many cases, this protection has helped their recoveries. Where the recovery of individual species is the goal, these efforts can be seen as largely successful. From an ecosystem perspective, however, predator recovery can introduce significant new conservation and legal challenges. We highlight three types of conflicts created by a single-species focus: (1) recovering predator populations that increase competition with humans for the same prey, (2) new tradeoffs that emerge when protected predators consume protected prey, and (3) multiple predator populations that compete for the same limited prey. We use two food webs with parallel conservation challenges, the Northeast Pacific Ocean and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, to demonstrate legal/policy conflicts and the policy levers that exist to ameliorate conflicts. In some cases, scientific uncertainty about the ecological interaction hinders progress towards resolving conflicts. In others, available policy options are insufficient. In all cases, management decisions must be made in the face of an unknown future. We suggest a framework that incorporates multispecies science, policy tools, and tradeoff analyses into management.

This paper was authored by Kristin N. Marshall, Adrian C. Stier (me), Jameal F. Samhouri, Ryan P. Kelly, and Eric J. Ward. You can find a copy of the manuscript here, or contact me directly for a PDF. 

Adrian Stier