When winters are severe, more elk die, providing needed food for the wide range of scavengers in the area, including bears, coyotes, eagles and ravens, the researchers said. Shorter, warmer winters brought on by global warming increase the survival rate of elk, causing a food shortage for the scavengers at a time when other resources are scarce.
With the help of the gray wolves, however, elk are regularly killed off regardless of the winter's severity, according to the study. And luckily for the scavengers, the wolves are willing to share their leftovers, thereby buffering the impact of climate change.
As this article goes on to say, this serves as an apt reminder of the havoc that can ensue when one element of an ecosystem is removed:
Gray wolves were once found throughout North America, but were nearly hunted to extinction by 1970. Since the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone in 1995, a growing body of research is finding that this top carnivore, which has been making a comeback, is an essential player in the region's ecosystem. There are now 31 gray wolves at Yellowstone.
From Earth News Wire.
Technorati tags: ecosystems, climate change