The Apache Pow Wow

Saving Ecosystems with Predators

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

Many of our planet’s natural ecosystems have become dangerously unbalanced within the past few years. This is because of a great lack of predators, many of which are now endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. Biologists have found that the key to saving these ecosystems is to “rewild” them, or restore them to their state before human interference. This technique is now being used by reintroducing endangered predators back into their natural environments.

Two major rewilding success stories have taken place in Idaho and at Yellowstone National Park. In both cases, gray wolves were reintroduced to the ecosystems there. With these apex predators back in the food chain, the ecosystems began to flourish again. The gray wolves lowered and stabilized herbivore populations, which allowed more plants to grow. The new abundance of food caused more animals, such as birds and beavers, to return to the ecosystem. The increase of life subsequently resulted in an increase of death, but this encouraged scavengers like raptors and bears to reappear. The circle of life was restored, and the ecosystems were looking better than they had looked in ages.

However, not all attempts at rewilding get this far. The key factor in a rewilding project’s success is its location. After studying several ecosystems, biologists determined that the best places for rewilding were large areas with little human impact. These places also needed to have enough prey to support the new predators. Most importantly, the people occupying the area being rewilded needed to be willing to live alongside the predators. This is one of the greatest challenges of rewilding.

Rewilding ecosystems are important for people because we live in and depend on them. We humans are the ones responsible for the decline of ecosystems in the first place, and we are the only ones who can repair the damage. Before humans had weapons, machines, and cities, ecosystems could thrive. As humans became more intelligent and advanced, ecosystems began to lose balance. With cities came deforestation, which caused devastating habitat loss for hundreds of species. The popularization of hunting and trapping animals, either for furs, food, or sport, resulted in the endangerment of many organisms.

The species being affected by hunting the most were predators, which are an essential part of any ecosystem’s food chain. They help keep the rest of the ecosystem in check by limiting the population of herbivores, which prevents all the ecosystem’s plants from being eaten. (If this happened, every organism in the food chain would starve.) The reintroduction of predators has led to healthier, more stable ecosystems. Hopefully, rewilding will continue to reverse the harm that humans have inflicted on the environment.

Photo courtesy of REFERENCE.COM

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Saving Ecosystems with Predators