What is an apex predator? Hmmm..simple enough question… Isn’t it just the species on top? So depending on whether it’s Yogi the Bear, Huckleberry Hound or Top Cat, so long as you’re the one eating the corn flakes, you’re the apex…right? Well……
It’s probably really important to lock down a solid answer to that question. After all, an apex predator can influence ecosystems in massive ways – limiting prey, controlling other smaller predators. Actually, it’s really the distinction of what is an apex- vs what is a meso- predator that remains mostly unclear.
So Arial and a team from across the globe decided to review the life-history traits of all the predators – literally line them up, end to end – to see if size had anything to do with how a top predator would behave and the kind of influence they would have.
What they found were some pretty strong patterns related to predator size. Bigger predators (like say a bear) tend to have relatively slow reproductive rates, long periods of parental care of young, and low population densities compared to smaller predators (like say a fox). Actually, an average mass of 16 kg was identified as the transition point for species, above which a carnivore population becomes self-regulated, rather than being influenced by properties of the community.
That’s a definition right there. Self-regulating apex… Extrinsically-regulated meso… Looks like some apex predators aren’t by definition apex predators
For the actual science of this story you should definitely read the paper and contact the authors if you have any questions.
Wallach AD, Izhaki I, Toms JD, Ripple WJ & Shanas U (2015) What is an apex predator? Oikos 124: 1453–1461.
K!E#11 by Luke S. O’Loughlin