Despite centuries of persecution, trapping and destruction of natural habitat, many carnivore species in the Northeast are thriving, according to a report released today by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Evaluating the conservation status of 14 "mesocarnivores" (i.e. medium-sized carnivores), ranging from coyotes, to short-tailed weasels throughout northeastern North America, the report found that many species have rebounded from historic lows in the early 20th century, to robust populations. Researchers attribute this success to a combination of management efforts including direct reintroduction, and the return of forest cover.
"It's tempting to dismiss the Northeast as a focal point for conservation of carnivores -- animals that traditionally evoke images of large expanses of wilderness found in the west," said WCS researcher Dr. Justina C. Ray, the report's author. "As it turns out, several mesocarnivore species, including marten, fisher and red fox, have staged remarkable recoveries right here."
Conversely, wolves and cougars, two large predators native to the Northeast, but extirpated in the early 20th century, have not fared as well, due to continued persecution and the loss of larger habitats they require.
The report chronicles success stories, such as the return of the fisher, a member of the weasel family that virtually vanished from much of its range beginning in the 1800s due to overtrapping and habitat loss. Reintroductions, which began in the 1940s, coupled with abandoned farmland reverting back to the forest cover that the species prefer, have led to the re- establishment of viable populations throughout most of their original northeastern range.
"Generalist" mesocarnivores, including coyotes, foxes, racoons and striped skunks that adapt well to human-induced changes in habitat, also show strong populations in much of their northeastern range.
Not all mesocarnivore populations are flourishing however, according to Dr. Ray. Species such as lynx and bobcat suffer from competition with other species such as coyotes. Mink and otter, while not yet showing evidence of decline, are susceptible to PCB contamination found in fish, their main source of food.
The report also notes the general lack of information available on mesocarnivores in habitats modified by humans, which now typify much of the northeastern landscape. It calls for more comprehensive research to better understand the complexities of the landscape and their effects on carnivore populations.
"It is clear that conservation of some mesocarnivore species in this ever-changing landscape will be a challenge," said Dr. Ray. "But the fact that several species have demonstrated unexpected resilience in the face of this change over the past century, should be seen as encouraging."
Copies of the report available through the WCS conservation communications office 718-220-5197.
Materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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