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Towards a cohesive, holistic view of top predation: a definition, synthesis and perspective

Authors: Fabrizio Sergio, Oswald J Schmitz, Charles J Krebs, Robert D Holt, Michael R Heithaus, Aaron J Wirsing, William J Ripple, Euan G Ritchie, David Ainley, Daniel Oro, Yadvendradev Jhala, Fernando Hiraldo and Erkki Korpimäki.


Research on the ecology of top predators — upper trophic level consumers that are relatively free from predation once they reach adult size — has provided regular contributions to general ecology and is a rapidly expanding and increasingly experimental, multidisciplinary and technological endeavour.

Yet, an exponentially expanding literature coupled with rapid disintegration into specialized, disconnected subfields for study (e.g. vertebrate predators versus invertebrate predators, community ecology versus biological control, etc.) increasingly means that we are losing a coherent, integrated understating of the role and importance of these species in ecosystems.

This process of canalization is likely to hinder sharing of scientific discovery and continued progress, especially as there is a growing need to understand the generality of the top–down forcing, as demonstrated for some members of this group.

Here, we propose ways to facilitate synthesis by promoting changes in mentality and awareness among specialists through increased debate and collaboration, conceptual reviews and a series of exemplary case studies.

The strategy will rely on the collective contribution by all scientists in the field and will strive to consolidate and formalise top-order predation as a holistic, cohesive, cross-taxonomical field of research studying the ecology, evolution and behaviour of apex predators and their capability to exert top–down forcing on lower trophic levels.

Sergio F, Schmitz OJ, Krebs CJ, Holt RD, Heithaus MR, Wirsing AJ, Ripple WJ, Ritchie EG, Ainley D, Oro D, Jhala Y, Hiraldo F, Korpimäki E (2014) Towards a cohesive, holistic view of top predation: a definition, synthesis and perspective. Oikos DOI PDF