It has been argued that widespread extinctions of top predators have changed terrestrial ecosystem structures through mesopredator release, where increased abundances of medium‐sized predators have detrimental effects on prey communities. This top‐down concept has received much attention within conservation biology, but few studies have demonstrated the phenomenon. The concept has been criticized since alternative explanations involving bottom‐up impacts from bioclimatic effects on ecosystem productivity and from anthropogenic habitat change are rarely considered. We analyse the response of a mesopredator (the red fox) to declines in top predators (wolf and Eurasian lynx) and agricultural expansion over 90 years in Sweden, taking bioclimatic effects into account. We show a top‐down mesopredator release effect, but ecosystem productivity determined its strength. The impacts of agricultural activity were mediated by their effects on top predator populations. Thus, both top‐down and bottom‐up processes need to be understood for effective preservation of biodiversity in anthropogenically transformed ecosystems.
Ecology Letters – Wiley
Published: Mar 1, 2007
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