Trophic cascades in 3D: network analysis reveals how apex predators structure ecosystems

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Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2017, 8 (1), pp. 135 - 142 (8)
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The role of apex predators as ecosystem regulators is now firmly embedded in ecological theory, suggesting that the world is green and biologically diverse in large part because predators suppress herbivore densities (Hairston, Smith & Slobodkin 1960; Estes et al. 2011; Ripple et al. 2014). Studies from across the globe show that apex predators limit the abundance and modify the behaviour of their prey and smaller mesopredators, suppressing grazing and predation pressure, and enhancing biodiversity and productivity (Ritchie & Johnson 2009; Ritchie et al. 2012). This top-down forcing cascades throughout ecosystems influencing a broad range of processes, both biotic and abiotic, including species abundances and richness, animal behaviour, disease dynamics, carbon sequestration and stream morphology (Estes et al. 2011; Ripple et al. 2014; Atwood et al. 2015). The rise and fall of apex predators not only affects the composition of species within ecological communities therefore, but also ecosystem functioning (Estes et al. 2011; Ripple et al. 2014; Standish et al. 2014). For example, wolves (Canis lupus) provide critical resource subsidies to scavenging species during warm months, thus enhancing their resilience to shortening winters due to global warming (Wilmers & Getz 2005). Similarly, dingoes (C. dingo) stabilize herbivore prey densities by dampening their population responses to rainfall in arid environments, thereby enabling plant biomass to accumulate during brief wet seasons (Letnic & Crowther 2013).
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