Trophic cascades in a multicausal world: Isle Royale and Yellowstone

Rolf O. Peterson, John A. Vucetich, Joseph M. Bump, Douglas W. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Questions of whether trophic cascades occur in Isle Royale National Park (IRNP) or Yellowstone National Park's northern range (NR) cannot lead to simple, precise, or definitive answers. Such answers are limited especially by multicausality in the NR and by complex temporal variation in IRNP. Spatial heterogeneity, contingency, and nonequilibrium dynamics also work against simple answers in IRNP and NR. The existence of a trophic cascade in IRNP and NR also depends greatly on how it is defined. For example, some conceive of trophic cascades as entailing essentially any indirect effect of predation. This may be fine, but the primary intellectual value of such a conception may be to assess an important view in community ecology that most species are connected to most other species in a food web through a network of complicated, albeit weak, indirect effects. These circumstances that work against simple answers likely apply to many ecosystems. Despite the challenges of assessing the existence of trophic cascades in IRNP and NR, such assessments result in considerable insights about a more fundamental question: What causes population abundance to fluctuate?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-345
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 23 2014


  • ecosystem
  • elk
  • herbivory
  • moose
  • predation
  • wolf


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