Top-down effect of repatriating bald eagles hinder jointly recovering competitors

Journal of Animal Ecology
By: , and 



1. The recovery of piscivorous birds around the world is touted as one of the great conservation successes of the 21st century, but for some species, this success was short-lived. Bald eagles, ospreys, and great blue herons began repatriating Voyageurs National Park, USA, in the mid-20th century. However, after 1990, only eagles continued their recovery, while osprey and heron recovery failed for unknown reasons.

2. We aimed to evaluate whether top-down effects of bald eagles, and bottom-up effects of inclement weather, habitat quality, and fish resources contributed to the failed recovery of ospreys and herons in a protected area.

3. We quantified the relative influence of top-down and bottom-up factors on nest colonization, persistence (i.e., nest reuse) and success for ospreys, and occurrence and size of heronries using 26 years (1986-2012) of spatially-explicit monitoring data coupled with multi-response hierarchical models and Bayesian variable selection approaches.

4. Bald eagles were previously shown to recover faster due to intensive nest protection and management. Increased numbers of eagles were associated with a reduction in the numbers of osprey nests, their nesting success, and heronry size; while higher local densities of nesting eagles deterred heronries nearby. We found little evidence of bottom-up limitations on the failed recovery of herons and ospreys.

5. We present a conservation conundrum: bald eagles are top predators and a flagship species of conservation that have benefited from intensive protection, but this likely hindered the recovery of ospreys and herons. Returning top predators, or rewilding, is widely promoted as a conservation strategy for top-down ecosystem recovery, but managing top predators in isolation of jointly recovering species can halt or reverse ecosystem recovery. Previous studies warn of the potential consequences of ignoring biotic interactions amongst recovering species, but we go further by quantifying how these interactions contributed to failed recoveries via impacts on the nesting demography of jointly recovering species. Multi-species management is paramount to realizing the ecosystem benefits of top predator recovery.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Top-down effect of repatriating bald eagles hinder jointly recovering competitors
Series title Journal of Animal Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2656.12990
Volume 88
Issue 7
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher British Ecological Society
Contributing office(s) Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
Description 12 p.
First page 1054
Last page 1065
Country United States
State Minnesota
Other Geospatial Voyageurs National Park
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