Recolonizing Carnivores and Naïve Prey: Conservation Lessons from Pleistocene Extinctions

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Science  09 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5506, pp. 1036-1039
DOI: 10.1126/science.1056466

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The current extinction of many of Earth's large terrestrial carnivores has left some extant prey species lacking knowledge about contemporary predators, a situation roughly parallel to that 10,000 to 50,000 years ago, when naı̈ve animals first encountered colonizing human hunters. Along present-day carnivore recolonization fronts, brown (also called grizzly) bears killed predator-naı̈ve adult moose at disproportionately high rates in Scandinavia, and moose mothers who lost juveniles to recolonizing wolves in North America's Yellowstone region developed hypersensitivity to wolf howls. Although prey that had been unfamiliar with dangerous predators for as few as 50 to 130 years were highly vulnerable to initial encounters, behavioral adjustments to reduce predation transpired within a single generation. The fact that at least one prey species quickly learns to be wary of restored carnivores should negate fears about localized prey extinction.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: berger{at}

  • Present address: Department of Animal Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, S-90183 Umea, Sweden.

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