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Trophic Cascades Not Included in Climate Dialogue

This post was written by Todd Baldwin, vice president and associate publisher at Island Press. The theme of this year’s Ecological Society of America’s 95th Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is “Global Warming:  The Legacy of our Past, the Challenge of Our Future,” a far cry from my last visit to ESA some years ago, when climate change was barely a blip on the radar and confined to a few specialized sessions. This trend emerged over the past few years, but this year a majority of the sessions deal with climate change impacts on species and ecosystems. It is the elephant in the room that everyone is now talking about. During dinner, the Island Press staff and Cristina Eisenberg, author of The Wolf’s Tooth, were talking about the overwhelming weight of climate change reflected in the program. Eisenberg noted an interesting frustration, nowhere had anyone made the link between climate adaptation and trophic cascades—the scientific term describing the way top predators keep an ecosystem in balance by keeping lower levels of the food web in check through predation. Top predators—like wolves—help to maintain the diversity and function of an ecosystem by preventing populations of other species such as elk from exploding and overrunning other species—for example, the aspen trees the elk love to eat. The concept is quickly becoming a key one in ecology, yet it has not made into conversations about climate impacts. Find out more more about The Wolf's Tooth.