We investigated how large carnivores, herbivores, and plants may be linked to the maintenance of native species biodiversity through trophic cascades. The extirpation of wolves (Canis lupus) from Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1920s and their reintroduction in 1995 provided the opportunity to examine the cascading effects of carnivore–herbivore interactions on woody browse species, as well as ecological responses involving riparian functions, beaver (Castor canadensis) populations, and general food webs. Our results indicate that predation risk may have profound effects on the structure of ecosystems and is an important constituent of native biodiversity. Our conclusions are based on theory involving trophic cascades, predation risk, and optimal foraging; on the research literature; and on our own recent studies in Yellowstone National Park. Additional research is needed to understand how the lethal effects of predation interact with its nonlethal effects to structure ecosystems.
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Vol. 54 • No. 8