Beyond 'predator-prey'

  Dear HCN,
I am responding to Greg Hanscom's editorial referring to the lofty ideal that the mission for wildlife biologists is to work themselves out of a job (HCN, 3/31/03: Dear Friends). It seems to me that wildlife biologists are fair game for everyone. If we advocate some sort of active management that the environmental community finds objectionable, then those critics know better. If we advocate some sort of management that impinges on users of the resources, then they know better.

Now we have new terminology for an age-old, ongoing discussion among professional wildlife biologists as to the role of predation in regulating native ungulates such as deer and elk. The editor and others have decided that "top-down" regulation theory is a new concept, vis-a-vis "bottom-up" regulation theory. And Yellowstone, after experiencing the wolf again for less than a decade, is used as an example of how nature should really work.

I am reminded that just after the initial study of wolf-moose relationships was completed on Isle Royale in the early 1970s, everyone was using it as an example of the so-called balance of nature. Subsequently, the relationship has fluctuated all over the place, and no one is crowing about any balance of nature on that island.

There are examples where predators have controlled their prey, and examples where they haven't, in what I like to call "real nature," those areas where human influence hasnÕt been all that pervasive. Sometimes bottom-up works and sometimes top-down works. Sometimes, neither is in play at the moment.

Perhaps the conclusion to be derived, at this point, is that the predator-prey relationship is really a predator-associated predator-prey-alternative prey-pathogen-habitat-wildfire-plant pathogen-weather-climate relationship that changes through space and time. It remains for the wildlife biologist and other ecologists to continue to investigate, document and attempt to understand the relationships in all their complexity, and I hardly think we are going to work ourselves out of a job in the process.

James M. Peek
Viola, Idaho