A new study in the journal Science has weighty implications for those interested in the crusade to help animals
at risk, the Washington Post reports. As sharks, big cats and wolves have been on the decline, the effect of their loss is seen at every level of the food chain, both on land and at sea.
As top predators disappear, their prey flourish with no natural mode of being selected out. The function of predators becomes even more clear in their absence, the news source reports, as disease and invasive species become rampant.
Two dozen scientists, funded by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, conducted the study, which "supports [a] long-standing theory about the role of top-down forcing in ecosystems but also highlights the unanticipated impacts of trophic cascades on processes as diverse as the dynamics of disease, wildfire, carbon sequestration, invasive species and biogeochemical cycles."
Typically, humans can't see the importance of "top-down" predation until a predator is completely eliminated. For instance, the elk and deer that populate Yellowstone, destroying trees, do so in the absence of their natural predator: the wolf. Olive baboons, which carry disease, are able to thrive near people and food crops because their predators, leopards and lions, have been eliminated in swathes of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the news source.