Large carnivores need large areas of relatively wild habitat, which makes their conservation challenging. These species play important ecological roles and in some cases may qualify as keystone species. Although the ability of carnivores to control prey numbers varies according to many factors and often is effective only in the short term, the indirect effects of carnivores on community structure and diversity can be great. Perhaps just as important is the role of carnivores as umbrella species (i.e., species whose habitat area requirements encompass the habitats of many other species). Conservation areas large enough to support populations of large carnivores are likely to include many other species and natural communities, especially in regions such as the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the United States that have relatively low endemism. For example, a plan for recovery of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) proposed by Shaffer (1992) covers, in part, 34% of the state of Idaho (compared to 8% covered by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal) and would capture 10% or more of the statewide ranges of 71% of the mammal species, 67% of the birds, 61% of the amphibians but only 27% of the reptiles native to Idaho. Two‐thirds (67%) of the vegetation types in Idaho would have 10% or more of their statewide area included in the Shaffer plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery zones provide a much poorer umbrella. The umbrella functions of large carnivores are expected to be poorer in regions with high endemism. The application of metapopulation concepts to large carnivore conservation has led to proposals for regional reserve networks composed of wilderness core areas, multiple‐use buffer zones, and some form of connectivity. The exceptional vagility of most large carnivores makes such networks feasible in a region with low human population density, such as the Rocky Mountains, but mortality risks still need to be addressed. Roads are a major threat to carnivore recovery because of barrier effects, vehicle collisions, and increased accessibility of wild areas to poachers. Development, especially for tourism, is also becoming a threat in many parts ofthe region.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Aug 1, 1996
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