Trophic Cascades

Most people are familiar with the impact that the return of wolves had on Yellowstone, but did you know that mountain lions also have a significant role to play in the health of an ecosystem?

In the absence of these predators, herbivores like deer are left unregulated and their populations experience rapid growth. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the growth of native plants that deer rely on for food. Over-browsing by deer can cause a significant decline in the biodiversity, in addition to damaging the ecosystem. A study conducted in our neighboring state of Utah, showed just how extensive the damage could be.

The eradication of mountain lions in Zion Canyon led to the decline of cottonwoods, which may eventually disappear altogether, as well as declines in willows, cattails and other types of plants. In turn, this led to the decline of lizards, amphibians, salamanders, butterflies and negatively impacted native fish populations. Without mountain lions in the Canyon, the stream banks began to erode, resulting in wider rivers and shallower waters.

What impact do you think mountain lions have had here in Nevada?

Denise Peterson

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