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Desert Diary
Ecology/Top Predators


We tend to be very ambivalent about predators. On the one hand, we romanticize the wolf and the eagle as noble symbols of power. On the other hand, as a people, we trap, poison, and shoot predators every chance we have. We applaud the cunning of the coyote, but do our best to eradicate them from the face of the earth. It may take awhile to sink into the consciousness of the average person, but we're found through the years that predators are useful critters to have around. Indeed, without the them to check the rise in population size, prey animals may find themselves buffeted by disease, explosive growth of parasite populations, and food shortages, rendering survival through hard times iffy.

Now, a study of the effects of a group of predatory birds strongly indicates that presence of top predators encourages biodiversity. Comparing habitats where these predators bred with similar habitat lacking them and with habitats having lower level predators consistently showed greater biodiversity with the top level predators present. Time for the average Joe to get with it!
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf, a top predator. Photograph by John and Karen Hollingsworth, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Sergio, F., I. Newton, and L. Marchesi. 2005. Top predators and biodiversity. Nature 436:192.