New Study Explores Impacts of Marine and Freshwater Predators on Ecosystems and Society

New Study Explores Impacts of Marine and Freshwater Predators on Ecosystems and Society

Predators from marine and freshwater habitats, such as sharks, seals, tarpon and crocodiles, can impact ecosystems and also benefit human society in various ways.  

Credit: Shark, tarpon, Cape fur seals - Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.

American crocodile: Massimo Giogetta

By Diana Udel

Predators from marine and freshwater habitats, such as sharks, seals, tarpon and crocodiles, can impact ecosystems and also benefit human society in various ways.  

Credit: Shark, tarpon, Cape fur seals - Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.

American crocodile: Massimo Giogetta

New Study Explores Impacts of Marine and Freshwater Predators on Ecosystems and Society

By Diana Udel

MIAMI—March 11, 2019— A new study from a team of leading scientists reports on the diverse ways that aquatic predators, such as sharks and alligators, can impact ecosystems and also benefit human society. The study shows how these important ecological processes and ecosystem services to society can break down or recover from population losses and recoveries of aquatic predators.

“Aquatic predators can influence their ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check, controlling the flow of nutrients, preventing the spread of diseases and invasive species, and even creating new habitats for other organisms,” said lead study author Neil Hammerschlag, a research associate professor at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School and Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy. “In addition to benefiting humans as food, they are highly sought after for sport fishing, scuba diving and ecotourism, which creates thousands of jobs.”

The study also describes how aquatic predators can moderate climate change effects and have become inspiration for new products, such as shark skin-mimicking surfaces, being used to design more aerodynamic drones and planes, as well as the development of new medicines.

“To aid in future investigations, we identified 16 priority research questions.” said Steven Cooke, study co-author and professor at Carleton University, Canada. “One of the most critical is understanding how climate change is affecting the ecological roles of aquatic predators and the services they provide to humans in a changing world.”

The study concludes with a framework to aid policy makers and wildlife managers in supporting adaptive decision making involving aquatic predators within a context that maximizes their ecosystem function as well as the benefits they provide to humans under current and future environmental change.

The study, titled “Ecosystem Function and Services of Aquatic Predators in the Anthropocene”, DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2019.01.005was published online in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution on March 8, 2019. The papers coauthors include Neil Hammerschlag, of the UM Rosenstiel School, Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society and UM Leonard and Jane Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Oswald J. Schmitz School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, Alexander S. Flecker Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Kevin D. Lafferty US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Andrew Sih Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Trisha B. Atwood Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center, Utah State University, Austin J. Gallagher Beneath the Waves, Duncan J. Irschick Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Program, University of Massachusetts, Rachel Skubel Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, University of Miami, Steven J. Cooke, Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Carleton University, Ottawa