Losing apex predators and ecosystem disruption

A new study sponsored by the national science foundation describes a manuscript that just appeared in Science. From the NSF write-up:

“The top-down effects of apex consumers in an ecosystem are fundamentally important, but it is a complicated phenomenon,” Estes said. “They have diverse and powerful effects on the ways ecosystems work, and the loss of these large animals has widespread implications.”

Estes and co-authors cite a wide range of examples in their review, including:

The extirpation of wolves in Yellowstone National Park led to over-browsing of aspen and willows by elk; restoration of wolves allowed the vegetation to recover.
Dramatic changes in coastal ecosystems followed the collapse and recovery of sea otter populations. Sea otters maintain coastal kelp forests by controlling populations of kelp-grazing sea urchins.
The decimation of sharks in an estuarine ecosystem caused an outbreak of cow-nosed rays and the collapse of shellfish populations.

Review of Bee Conservation Research

This is one of those really nice open-access articles from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences:

Winfree, R. (2010), The conservation and restoration of wild bees. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1195: 169–197. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05449.x

From the abstract:

Bees pollinate most of the world’s wild plant species and provide economically valuable pollination services to crops; yet knowledge of bee conservation biology lags far behind other taxa such as vertebrates and plants. There are few long-term data on bee populations, which makes their conservation status difficult to assess. The best-studied groups are the genus Bombus (the bumble bees), and bees in the EU generally; both of these are clearly declining. However, it is not known to what extent these groups represent the approximately 20,000 species of bees globally. As is the case for insects in general, bees are underrepresented in conservation planning and protection efforts. For example, only two bee species are on the global IUCN Red List, and no bee is listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, even though many bee species are known to be in steep decline or possibly extinct. At present, bee restoration occurs mainly in agricultural contexts, funded by government programs such as agri-environment schemes (EU) and the Farm Bill (USA). This is a promising approach given that many bee species can use human-disturbed habitats, and bees provide valuable pollination services to crops. However, agricultural restorations only benefit species that persist in agricultural landscapes, and they are more expensive than preserving natural habitat elsewhere. Furthermore, such restorations benefit bees in only about half of studied cases. More research is greatly needed in many areas of bee conservation, including basic population biology, bee restoration in nonagricultural contexts, and the identification of disturbance-sensitive bee species.

It’s a concern that only about half the restoration programs produced a sustainable colony.