Monday, August 22, 2011

More red wolves = fewer 'coons = more birds

We've discussed some in the past the terrific work that has gone on to save the red wolf population in North Carolina. It's apparently having a positive effect on birds (but not raccoons, apparently).

"Good news for a wolf is good news for a turkey. At least it is in Eastern North Carolina, where red wolves are making a comeback and helping other animal species along the way," says McClatchy.

Since the wolves were reintroduced in 1987, biologists have watched them rattle all the links in the food chain.

"We've certainly seen turkey come back. We've seen quail populations increase," said David Rabon, coordinator of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

Wolves' role in helping these ground-nesting birds is well known, Rabon said. Raccoons eat the birds' eggs, and red wolves prey on raccoons. More wolves mean fewer raccoons, and fewer raccoons mean more quail and turkey. Connecting the dots, more wolves mean more birds.

Effects like this aren't unique to Eastern North Carolina. Research from around the globe, compiled in an article in the journal Science last month, shows just how deeply large predators like wolves and cougars are connected to the ecosystems where they live. ...

There are three national wildlife refuges in the red wolves' territory: Alligator River, Pocosin Lakes, and Lake Mattamuskeet. The refuge managers work to create habitat for red wolves and other animals, including waterfowl, bears and alligators.

Other public lands in the area are managed as state game lands, where managers create habitat for species such as turkey, quail, and deer instead of wolves.

Creating a habitat for one animal doesn't necessarily make it harder for another, Rabon stressed. "The higher you go in the food chain, usually the larger the umbrella is for how many other species you also benefit."

But in the years since they've been reintroduced, the red wolves have expanded well beyond public land, where their impact is even less visible.

Much of the territory the wolves occupy is privately owned farmland. That land must be drained for farming, Rabon said, so it's already a very different landscape from the one the wolves might have originally inhabited. Because it's actively maintained for farming, any effect the wolves might have is constantly erased.

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