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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Graduate student Kristin Marshall at the Colorado State University has published her PHD thesis on what she concludes is the primary impact on the Willow/Aspen/Cottonwood riparian ecosystem found in Yellowstone..............She differs with William Ripple's "top down conclusions that the introduction of Wolves is responsible for Aspen/Cottonwood/Willow regeneration through the "Landscape of Fear" impact on Elk................Marshall feels that the bottom up influences of water table depth, topography and climate influence the regeneration of this ecosytem more strongly than the presence of Wolves---Bottom line is that both top down and bottom up influencers are always at play in natural systems with trophic carnivores certainly an important variable in the health of the land(so say Leopold, Ripple, Laundre, Eisenberg and many other contributors to this blog)..............A tip of the hat to Ms. Marshall for providing "food for thought" about bottom up influencers in this equation---Note that a friend of this blog is investigating the possibility of securing a copy of Kristin's paper for all of us to read and peruse--will keep you posted of progress on this front

Kristin N. Marshall
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
In partial fulfillment of the requirements
For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Spring 2012                             Abstract

The detection and prediction of alternate states of ecosystem configuration is of increasing importance in our changing world. Ecosystems may be perturbed by shifts in climate, or by human activity. Many perturbations to ecosystems can be reversed by reducing the initiating stressor.

  Sometimes shifts in ecosystem states are irreversible, and alternate configurations persist long after the initiating stressor is reduced. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park 17 years ago provided a rare opportunity to study whether the effects of predation could restore an ecosystem degraded by herbivory.

Willow swamp in Yellowstone

Wolves were absent from the Yellowstone ecosystem for approximately 70 years. When wolves were absent, elk numbers increased and heavy herbivory degraded vegetation communities, particularly in riparian areas. Herbivory induced an alternate
state in riparian vegetation, where willows, once dominant, were rare on the landscape and short in stature.

My dissertation research describes how the top-down effects of predation and herbivory interact with the bottom-up effects of resource availability in northern range riparian areas. My research addressed three questions: 1) How do water table depth and browsing intensity constrain willow height and annual production?

Aspen system in Yellowstone

2) What is the role of landscape heterogeneity in determining spatial variation in the configuration of alternate states?

3) How have climate patterns interacted with trophic effects of ungulates and wolves over the last 40 years to shape willow canopy cover, growth, and establishment?

  My work provides broad understanding of limitations to willow growth on the northern range, and revealed that wolf reintroduction has not restored riparian areas. A decade-long experiment showed that the effects of removing herbivory on willow height and production depend on water table depth. My second study showed that topography and temporal variation in water table depth influence willow height and growth more strongly than does herbivory.

 My third study found that bottom-up effects of growing season length and precipitation drive patterns in willow height over four decades. Far less support existed for the effects of elk and wolves on willows through time.

  All of these studies led to the conclusion that bottom-up effects of resource limitation influence northern range willows more strongly than top-down effects of top predators or herbivores.

"the landscape of fear" playing out as wolves pursue Elk

 Results from my research show that wolf reintroduction has not uniformly restored riparian areas along small streams on the northern range. Instead, water table depth, topography, and climate drivers influence willows more strongly than herbivory or wolves.

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