Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wolves, moose and biodiversity: An unexpected connection

03.11.2009
Moose eat plants; wolves kill moose. What difference does this classic predator-prey interaction make to biodiversity?

A large and unexpected one, say wildlife biologists from Michigan Technological University. Joseph Bump, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich report in the November 2009 issue of the journal Ecology that the carcasses of moose killed by wolves at Isle Royale National Park enrich the soil in "hot spots" of forest fertility around the kills, causing rapid microbial and fungal growth that provide increased nutrients for plants in the area.

"This study demonstrates an unforeseen link between the hunting behavior of a top predator—the wolf—and biochemical hot spots on the landscape," said Bump, an assistant professor in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and first author of the research paper. "It's important because it illuminates another contribution large predators make to the ecosystem they live in and illustrates what can be protected or lost when predators are preserved or exterminated."

Bump and his colleagues studied a 50-year record of more than 3,600 moose carcasses at Isle Royale. They measured the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil at paired sites of wolf-killed moose carcasses and controls. They also analyzed the microbes and fungi in the soil and the leaf tissue of large-leaf aster, a common native plant eaten by moose in eastern and central North America.

They found that soils at carcass sites had 100 to 600 percent more inorganic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than soil from surrounding control sites. Carcass sites also had an average of 38 percent more bacterial and fungal fatty acids, evidence of increased growth of bacteria and fungi.

The nitrogen levels in plants growing on the carcass sites was from 25 to 47 percent higher than the levels at the control sites. Since large herbivores, like moose, are attracted to nitrogen-rich plants, the carcass sites become foraging sites, further supplementing soil nutrients from the urine and feces of the animals eating there.

"I was initially skeptical that it would be possible to detect something as diffuse in the forest floor as nutrients from dead animals," said Peterson, who has been studying the wolves and moose of Isle Royale for decades. "It was gratifying to see Joseph succeed in following animal-derived nutrients back into plants to enrich them in protein, ready to be eaten again."

Even moose killed in winter and mostly consumed produce substantial nutrient hot spots, Bump reports. "At the landscape scale, long-term carcass deposition patterns could influence forest dynamics by shifting competitive relationships among tree seedlings through changes in the nutrient concentrations in their growth environment," he writes.

Bump has observed similar effects on the soil and plant life at elk carcass sites in Yellowstone National Park, another place where wolves are predators and large herbivores are their prey. And he adds that on the Arctic tundra, where soil nutrients are limited, others have found that the impact of a muskox carcass on surrounding vegetation is dramatic even after 10 years.

"Predation and nutrient cycling are two of the most important of all ecological processes, but they seem just about completely unrelated to one another," observes Vucetich. Also on the faculty of Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Vucetich conducts an annual winter study of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale. "Bump has led us to understand how these two seemingly disparate processes—predation and nutrient cycling—are in fact connected and connected in a most interesting way."

The strong and unexpected connections between wolves, moose and the biogeochemistry of their ecosystem are important to policy makers involved in predator management and to a public increasingly concerned about conservation, Bump suggests.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Michigan Technological University (mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.

Jennifer Donovan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mtu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision

06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

A new dead zone in the Indian Ocean could impact future marine nutrient balance

06.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

06.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>