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Wildlife - human conflicts and ecosystem health

One of the major difficulties of a global approach to the understanding and management of ecological risks is the underestimation of the complexity of the system under study. This complexity is linked to the variety of processes, direct or delayed, and of significant time (seasonal, multi-annual, decennial, etc.) and space scales that determine wildlife and pathogen population dynamics.

Many studies rely on the analysis of systems over a short time span and a relatively small spatial extent, ignoring that local population dynamics should be primarily described on a regional scale and on the long term. This is essential in order to take into account not only individual movements of any focal species locally, but also the extent at which individuals of other regulating populations may themselves move at much larger scale (e.g. predators, pathogens, etc.), and the spatial arrangements of habitats that facilitate or limit those multi-scale movements.

Variation of fox population kilometric index in the Doubs department, France

Furthermore, the transition from a system demographically stable to unstable is possible, for instance, where new species are introduced and become invasive, or as shown in our own works, as an effect of changes in landscape composition and structure.

Those shifts between demographic patterns, caused by the effect of landscape changes on one or some species, can have a crucial impact on the structure of animal communities, the transmission routes of pathogens, and the risk of population outbreak or extinction. The shift of the demographic pattern of only one species can impact together public health (by changing the flux of pathogen agents, organisms or chemical toxicants), agriculture (by damaging crops severely), conservation (increasing the biomass available for predators of patrimonial interest), game species (by undesirable prey shifts from predators onto game species), etc.

Studying those shifts requires identifying environmental features of systems differing in population dynamic patterns of focal species prone to shift from stability to instability at various scales. Such studies must be based initially on long term monitoring of animal populations at relevant scales (most often regional). Plateau pika damage on grassland on the Tibetan plateau, 4200 m alt. Shiqu, Sichuan, China. For instance, rodent population surges on the Jura plateau in France or Pika outbreaks on the Tibetan plateau in China are processes which move over ten to hundred thousands square kilometres over several years, with important long term impacts on e.g. agriculture and public health.

Long term/large scale monitoring can be carried out prospectively through active observation of systems over years but also retrospectively e.g. by using data collected for other purposes. In both cases, research is often grounded on collaborative work conducted with non-conventional research partners (e.g. farmer organisations, hunting associations, naturalists, etc.), especially because research organizations generally do not have enough people and facilities to work on relevant scales. Another good reason to carry out research with such partnership networks is because early awareness and mobilisation of stakeholders for defining and sharing research objectives are critical conditions for efficient transfers from research to practical application.

Habitat fragmentation (here typical habitat of the black and white snub-nosed monkey, an endemic species in Yunnan, China) may threaten species decreasing connectivity between distant populations.

See also LTER site Jurassian Arc