Evaluating intraguild trophic relations among terrestrial carnivores in the Romanian Carpathians
Recovery of apex predators is a critical component of reversing the loss of biodiversity. However, the top-down control processes exerted by apex predators may be influenced by bottom-up human-driven processes (e.g., habitat change, poaching, hunting), leading to calls for evaluating recovery actions through the lens of trophic ecology, as well as for considering humans as an integral part of the trophic system. Our proposed project focuses on a complex and intact carnivore guild in the Romanian Carpathians, a region where terrestrial carnivores have persisted and have viable populations despite centuries of human habitation. The work proposed here integrates multiple data sources on carnivore ecology, and addresses the critical need to advance our fundamental understanding of the direction and magnitude of intraguild interactions in human-dominated landscapes.
The research proposed here draws on trophic web theory concepts and seeks to offer a holistic perspective on carnivore guild structure and functioning in human-dominated landscapes. Our project aims to use a Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) framework that explicitly models space use and species co-occurrences (occupancy modeling), and integrates diet and social structure of apex predators. When incorporated into the SEM framework, social structure, and diet analyses can provide a mechanistic understanding of (1) the relations between apex predators and the rest of the carnivore community, and (2) the defining elements of the human footprint on the carnivore guild interactions (push-pull dynamics: negative impacts of habitat disturbance compensated by food subsidies such as livestock, crops). By focusing on Romania’s intact carnivore guild, this research directly informs EU carnivore recovery, supports the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, and serves as a benchmark for quantifying the impacts of carnivore recovery in other landscapes with depauperate carnivore guilds largely dominated by mesopredators.
The Romanian Carpathians are one of the few places in Europe that harbor viable, stable populations of terrestrial carnivores: brown bear, Ursus arctos, gray wolf, Canis lupus, Eurasian lynx, Lynx lynx, wildcat, Felis sylvestris, red fox, Vulpes vulpes, as well as several mustelids: badger, Meles meles, European pine marten, Martes martes, beech marten, Martes foina, while lacking basic understanding of species ecology and community structure. The specific objectives of this project are: O1) evaluate spatial and interspecific interactions between carnivores using camera trap data; O2) determine the diet of 2 apex predators: wolf and bear; O3) evaluate trophic relations between carnivores in the presence of human disturbance by integrating multiple data sources, O4) develop scientific capacity by engaging young researchers.