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Linking Wolves and Plants: Aldo Leopold on Trophic Cascades

By William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta

Published in the July 2005 issue of BioScience Vol. 55, No.7: pages 613-621.

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Aldo Leopold, perhaps best known for his revolutionary and poignant essays about nature, was also an eloquent advocate during the 1930s and 1940s of the need to maintain wolves and other large carnivores in forest and range ecosystems. He indicated that their loss set the stage for ungulate irruptions and ecosystem damage throughout many parts of the United States. We synthesized the historical record on the potential cascading effects of wolf extirpation in the context of recent research. Leopold’s work of decades ago provides an important perspective for understanding the influence of large carnivores, via trophic cascades, upon the status and functioning of forest and range plant communities. Leopold’s personal experiences during an era of extensive biotic changes adds richness, credibility, and even intrigue to the view that present-day interactions between ungulates and plants in United States have been driven to a large degree by the extirpation of wolves and other large carnivores.

Key Words: Aldo Leopold, wolves, ungulates, irruptions, trophic cascades, overabundance