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Abstract

Land cover effects on mesopredator abundance in the presence and absence of apex predators

Trophic downgrading due to loss of apex consumers has been detected in many ecosystems. Loss of larger predators implies that medium-sized mesopredators rise to the status of apex predators which are limited bottom-up rather than top-down. Hence the density of medium-sized predators should be more strongly related to land cover in absence of larger predators. We investigate this hypothesis at a continental scale (Eurasia) for a medium-sized predator, the red fox Vulpes vulpes, in presence and absence of an apex predator, the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx. We predicted that in absence of lynx, fox density should be positively associated with open land covers, as these could favour foxes due to high prey availability. Our results showed that fox abundance was independent of land cover in presence of lynx. However, in absence of lynx, fox density was positively but asymptotically related to cropland, while negatively related to grassland. Fox density was highest when cropland constituted approximately 30% of the landscape, likely reflecting an optimal composition of foraging and breeding habitat. Grassland was associated with low productivity, likely reflecting low prey availability. Thus, cropland is favourable for red fox, but only in absence of top-down limitation by lynx. We suggest that there are two ecosystem states in Eurasia, one northern where lynx is present as an apex predator, and one south-eastern where red fox assumes the apex predator position and its abundance is subsidised by anthropogenic land cover.

Reference
Pasanen-Mortensen M, Elmhagen B (2015) Land cover effects on mesopredator abundance in the presence and absence of apex predators. Acta Oecologica 67: 40-48

 
   

 

 

Red fox in a meadow
by the edge of a forest