Incorporating anthropogenic effects into trophic ecology: predator-prey interactions in a human-dominated landscape


Apex predators perform important functions that regulate ecosystems worldwide. However, little is known about how ecosystem regulation by predators is influenced by human activities. In particular, how important are top-down effects of predators relative to direct and indirect human-mediated bottom-up and top-down processes? Combining data on species’ occurrence from camera traps and hunting records, we aimed to quantify the relative effects of top-down and bottom-up processes in shaping predator and prey distributions in a human-dominated landscape in Transylvania, Romania. By global standards this system is diverse, including apex predators (brown bear and wolf), mesopredators (red fox) and large herbivores (roe and red deer). Humans and free-ranging dogs represent additional predators in the system. Using structural equation modelling, we found that apex predators suppress lower trophic levels, especially herbivores. However, direct and indirect top-down effects of humans affected the ecosystem more strongly, influencing species at all trophic levels. Our study highlights the need to explicitly embed humans and their influences within trophic cascade theory. This will greatly expand our understanding of species interactions in human-modified landscapes, which compose the majority of the Earth’s terrestrial surface.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1814) 20151602
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab
Laura Kehoe
PhD & Postdoctoral Researcher