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"Mess O' Predators" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A new study led by Oregan State University shows that declining populations of "apex" predators such as wolves, lions or sharks has led to a huge increase in smaller "mesopredators" that are causing major economic and ecological disruptions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(SOUND EFFECT: wolf howl) Wolf at the Door.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Lions and wolves and cougars and sharks -- oh, my! A new study led by Oregon State University is looking at the world's A-list predators. Known as 'apex' predators, their numbers are drastically shrinking and throwing entire ecosystems out of balance. Large numbers of the B-listers (or, mesopredators) are proliferating.

The elimination of wolves, for instance, seemed like a good idea at the time to protect livestock. (SOUND EFFECT: buzzer -- wrong!) With the wolves disappearing, tons of coyotes step in and bring with them more problems than the wolves would have caused in the first place. And no, if you got rid of the coyotes, it's not like roadrunners are going to take over. (SOUND EFFECT: meep meep!)

The effects of exploding mesopredator populations can be found in oceans, rivers, and grasslands all over the world and that's a mess o' mesopredators!

It's a complex environmental challenge with no easy answers. The study shows that: economically, it may be cheaper to return apex predators to the population than to do damage-control later. Larger predators are usually carnivores -- mesopredators are omnivores -- they go for livestock and crops. And it's becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to reverse the trend.

The future may depend on the cunning and resourcefulness of perhaps the smartest apex predator -- us.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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