Mammalian carnivores are particularly vulnerable to extinction in fragmented landscapes1, and their disappearance may lead to increased numbers of smaller carnivores that are principle predators of birds and other small vertebrates. Such ‘mesopredator release’2 has been implicated in the decline and extinction of prey species2,3,4,5,6. Because experimental manipulation of carnivores is logistically, financially and ethically problematic6,7, however, few studies have evaluated how trophic cascades generated by the decline of dominant predators combine with other fragmentation effects to influence species diversity in terrestrial systems. Although the mesopredator release hypothesis has received only limited critical evaluation8 and remains controversial9, it has become the basis for conservation programmes justifying the protection of carnivores6. Here we describe a study that exploits spatial and temporal variation in the distribution and abundance of an apex predator, the coyote, in a landscape fragmented by development. It appears that the decline and disappearance of the coyote, in conjunction with the effects of habitat fragmentation, affect the distribution and abundance of smaller carnivores and the persistence of their avian prey.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Woodroffe, R. & Ginsberg, J. R. Edge effects and extinction of populations inside protected areas. Science 280, 2126–2128 (1998).
Soulé, M. E. et al. Reconstructed dynamics of rapid extinctions of chaparral-requiring birds in urban habitat islands. Conserv. Biol. 2, 75–92 (1988).
Sovada, M. A., Sargeant, A. B. & Grier, J. W. Differential effects of coyotes and red foxes on duck nest success. J. Wildl. Mgmt 59, 1–9 (1995).
Palomares, F., Gaona, P., Ferreras, P. & Delibes, M. Positive effects on game species of top predators by controlling smaller predator populations: an example with lynx, mongooses, and rabbits. Conserv. Biol. 9, 295–305 (1995).
Rogers, C. M. & Caro, M. J. Song sparrows, top carnivores, and nest predation: a test of the mesopredator release hypothesis. Oecologia 116, 227–233 (1998).
Soulé, M. E. & Terborgh, J. Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations for Regional Reserve Networks (Island, Washington, (1999).
Estes, J. A. in Linking Species and Ecosystems (eds Jones, C. G. & Lawton, L. H.) 151–158 (Chapman and Hall, New York, (1995).
Litvaitis, J. A. & Villafuerte, R. Intraguild predation, mesopredator release, and prey stability. Conserv. Biol. 10, 676–677 (1996).
Wright, S. J., Gompper, M. E. & Deleon, B. Are large predators keystone species in neotropical forests—the evidence from Barro-Colorado Island. Oikos 71, 279–294 (1994).
Wilcove, D. S. Nest predation in forest tracts and the decline of migratory songbirds. Ecology 66, 1211–1214 (1985).
Churcher, J. B. & Lawton, J. H. Predation by domestic cats in an English village. J. Zool. (Lond.) 212, 439–456 (1987).
Leimgruber, P., McShea, W. J. & Rappole, J. H. Predation on artificial nests in large forest blocks. J. Wildl. Mgmt 58, 254–260 (1994).
Fretwell, S. D. Food chain dynamics: the central theory of ecology? Oikos 50, 291–301 (1987).
George, W. Domestic cats as predators and factors in winter shortages of raptor prey. Wilson Bull. 86, 384–396 (1974).
Bolger, D. T., Alberts, A. & Soulé, M. E. Occurrence patterns of bird species in habitat fragments: sampling, extinction, and nested species subsets. Am. Nat. 137, 155–166 (1991).
Linhart, S. B. & Knowlton, F. F. Determining the relative abundance of coyotes by scent station lines. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 3, 119–124 (1975).
Conner, M. C., Labisky, R. F. & Progulske, D. R. J Scent-station indices as measures of population abundance for bobcats, raccoons, gray foxes, and opossums. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 11, 146–152 (1983).
Bendel, R. B. & Afifi, A. A. Comparison of stepping rules in forward regression. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 72, 46–53 (1977).
Tabachnick, B. G. & Fidell, L. S. Using Multivariate Statistics 3rd edn (HarperCollins College Publishers, New York, (1996).
We thank L. Angeloni, D. Bolger, T. Case, J. Crooks, D. Doak, J. Estes, R. Fisher, S.Hathaway, D. Menendez, S. Minta, P. Raimondi, B. Rice, and A. Suarez for their valuable help with this research, and C. Bell for illustrating Fig. 1 . This work was funded by D. Brimm, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, an EPA STAR Fellowship and an American Society of Mammalogist grant (K.R.C.).
About this article
Cite this article
Crooks, K., Soulé, M. Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400, 563–566 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/23028
Scientific Reports (2022)
Terrestrial mesopredators did not increase after top-predator removal in a large-scale experimental test of mesopredator release theory
Scientific Reports (2021)
Effects of oil palm and human presence on activity patterns of terrestrial mammals in the Colombian Llanos
Mammalian Biology (2021)
The relationship between landscape features and domestic species on the occupancy of native mammals in urban forests
Urban Ecosystems (2021)
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (2021)