Ecology: Kill one species to save the rest

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The loss of one species from an ecosystem can have unpredictable — and on occasion catastrophic — cascading effects. A modelling study suggests a strategy for rescuing a troubled ecosystem: selectively remove one or more additional species.

Sagar Sahasrabudhe and Adilson Motter of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, showed that removing or partially suppressing one or more species in a food web at key time points after one member has become extinct saves other members of the web from the same fate. The duo used several model food webs, as well as two webs modelled with data derived from real ecosystems — the Chesapeake Bay off Maryland and Virginia, and the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

The idea — a controversial one that may not sit well with some conservationists — relies on the fact that ecosystem networks tend to shift to a different stable arrangement after losing members.

Nature Commun. doi:10.1038/ncomms1163 (2011)


  1. Report this comment #17876

    Z Luciana said:

    The title of this research highlight is misleading. The original publication does
    propose an interesting approach to mitigate extinction cascades based on the removal
    or suppression of specific species. However, I found it nowhere claimed that species
    would have to be killed. On the contrary, it is explicitly mentioned that the
    interventions could be implemented in conjunction with economical activities, such
    as fishing, or based on relocation, fertility control and other nonlethal means. To
    the extent I understand this study, the interventions would be limited to islands,
    parks, lakes and other local areas, without involving large scale eradication of any

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