Landscape of Fear

How do predators like coyotes (Canis latrans), wolves (Canis lupus) and mountain lions (Puma concolor) help maintain the health of an ecosystem? Do they accomplish this by eating all the deer, rabbits and other prey species? No!

Predators actually have a psychological impact on wildlife. Their presence alone influences the behavior of their prey due to the potential threat that they pose. Because, being eaten is not usually at the top of a deer or elk’s agenda, they usually remain vigilant in a landscape that they share with other animals that may potentially eat them. Simply put, if predators are present, prey species are more aware of their surroundings and will move more often to avoid an encounter. This movement essentially protects the vegetation from over-browsing by ungulates, or herbivores, like deer. In turn, this benefits smaller critters that are reliant on cover provided by this vegetation for food, shelter and nesting.

In landscapes where predators are no longer present, prey species are free to browse without fear of predation. This landscape of fear has a significant role to play in the health of an ecosystem.

Denise Peterson

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