Loss of top predators may contribute to high ungulate population densities and chronic over-browsing of forest ecosystems. However, spatial and temporal variability in the strength of interactions between predators and ungulates occurs over scales that are much shorter than the scales over which forest communities change, making it difficult to characterize trophic cascades in forest ecosystems. We applied the LANDIS-II forest succession model and a recently developed ungulate browsing extension to model how the moose population could interact with the forest ecosystem of Isle Royale National Park, USA, under three different wolf predation scenarios. We contrasted a 100-yr future without wolves (no predation) with two predation scenarios (weak, long-term average predation rates and strong, higher than average rates). Increasing predation rates led to lower peak moose population densities, lower biomass removal rates, and higher estimates of forage availability and landscape carrying capacity, especially during the first 40 yr of simulations. Thereafter, moose population density was similar for all predation scenarios, but available forage biomass and the carrying capacity of the landscape continued to diverge among predation scenarios. Changes in total aboveground live biomass and species composition were most pronounced in the no predation and weak predation scenarios. Consistent with smaller-scale studies, high browsing rates led to reductions in the biomass of heavily browsed Populus tremuloides, Betula papyrifera, and Abies balsamea, and increases in the biomass of unbrowsed Picea glauca and Picea mariana, especially after the simulation year 2050, when existing boreal hardwood stands at Isle Royale are projected to senesce. As a consequence, lower predation rates corresponded with a landscape that progressively shifted toward dominance by Picea glauca and Picea mariana, and lacking available forage biomass. Consistencies with previously documented small-scale successional shifts, and population estimates and trends that approximate those from this and other boreal forests that support moose provide some confidence that these dynamics represent a trophic cascade and therefore provide an important baseline against which to evaluate long-term and large-scale effects of alternative predator management strategies on ungulate populations and forest succession.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Modelling moose–forest interactions under different predation scenarios at Isle Royale National Park, USA|
|Series title||Ecological Applications|
|Publisher||Ecological Society of America|
|Contributing office(s)||Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center|
|Other Geospatial||Isle Royale National Park|