Logically, when an area is full of prey such a savanna crowded with zebras and antelopes, one may expect predator population to be as large, yet a recent review paper on more than 1,000 predator-prey studies revealed a strange new law of the nature.
According to the study, when prey populations grow larger, paradoxically, predator populations do not follow the trend. Instead, predator numbers grow slower or even fewer than prey numbers, scientists suggest.
The recent study, which was published Thursday in Science, revealed that we may have overestimated the number of predators in the world by falling for the biased idea that the number of predator animals increases proportionally with the number of prey animals.
Nevertheless, scientists weren’t able to provide an exact explanation on why that may happen. They do know that they found a pattern in nearly all predator-prey studies they analyzed in their research.
Surprisingly, many studies had revealed that predator animals do not grow in numbers at the same rate their prey did. In fact, if prey populations grew faster, number of predators, paradoxically, had a tendency of growing slower.
“When you double your prey, you also increase your predators, but not to the same extent,”
noted Dr. Ian Hatton, senior researcher involved in the study.
This rule applies to any type of predators from larger predators in the savanna to the smallest predatory fish in the sea. The research team even discovered a complex mathematical function that can predict how fast the numbers of predator population would grow in a specific area by just looking at prey animal populations.
Regardless of the area predators were located across the world, they seem to follow the same law. Dr. Hatton said that his team was surprised to learn the pattern came up on and on again. On the other hand, researchers still don’t know what exactly triggers the pattern.
Scientists speculate that the pattern may be linked to variables in the ecosystem. For instance, competition for space may limit some species’ expansion but a sudden change in nutrients such as plankton may have a different effect on some undersea ecosystems.
The newly found pattern was consistent over a wide range of ecosystems, but surprisingly it occurred in other natural processes, too. For instance, when you remove predators from an ecosystem, you may expect prey populations to boom because there is no one to hunt them. But that didn’t happen. Prey, instead, continued to reproduce but at an increasingly slower pace, as if nature had an inner mechanism of self-correcting.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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