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My L.L. Stewart award project is to develop and explore linked-hypotheses relating to the ecological effects of gray wolves in the American West. I am 1) organizing a team of researchers, bringing together faculty, students, and a number of experts from universities in the West, and 2) collaborating to write articles introducing new hypotheses. Specifically, this involves new linked hypotheses, that after wolves were extirpated from the American West in the early 20th century: 1) coyote populations dramatically increased because wolves suppress the smaller coyotes, and 2) these hyperabundant coyotes are intensely preying on many other wildlife species, and finally 3) this process is driving down populations of some typically common prey as well as a number of threaten and endangered species, creating disrupted food-webs and decreased biodiversity. In addition, we are attempting to understand how wolves affect grizzly bears as mediated through wolves, elk, berry-producing shrubs, and resulting berry consumption by grizzly bears. The idea is that more wolves result in fewer elk, less elk browsing on berry-producing shrubs, and more berry production available for bear consumption. Overall, the presence of wolves appears be very important to ecological health of landscapes.
The outcomes of this L.L. Stewart Scholar project will be enhanced collaboration among scientists with new published work and the potential to create successful collaborative grant proposals in the future. This project involves faculty and students from Oregon State University as well as faculty from the University of Wyoming, University of Washington, and University of California. Several OSU students are helping with various aspects of the project. Others involved are from a non-profit foundation and the USGS, Department of Interior. To date, we have completed one short manuscript which has been accepted for publication by a wildlife journal.
This project, as supported by the L. L. Stewart Program, is well matched with the OSU strategic plan in that it will help “align and strengthen innovative scholarly and research activities” consistent with the goal of making OSU one of the top land grant universities in the nation.
Bill Ripple joined the faculty at Oregon State University in 1984. He is currently a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society as well as the Director of the “Trophic Cascades Program” at OSU (www.cof.orst.edu/cascades). During the last 14 years, Dr. Ripple has been working in Yellowstone National Park studying the effects of elk browsing on aspen, willow, and cottonwood and how the presence of wolves is changing that ecosystem. In recent years, he has broadened his work to include studying the ecological effects of other large predators in western North America as well as other regions of the world.