The 60% of the world’s large carnivorous species are in danger of extinction. Among them, the Iberian lynx survives as it can. Thanks to different protection efforts, the breed, which had only 94 copies at the beginning of the century has reached almost 700.
In addition to populating the Iberian lands again, the superpredator proves to be a hero who controls biodiversity. Its presence eliminates up to 80% of mesopredadores like foxes or meloncillos that abound in Spain and feed on rabbits and partridges, whose populations increase, according to the results of the study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
The researchers monitored eight Iberian lynxes three females and five males with collars in the Extremadura valley of Matachel (Badajoz). Detection cameras in the trees have allowed them to analyze their behavior for three years thanks to funding from the Ministry for Ecological Transition.
The data that has been collected by the Research Institute in Hunting Resources show that in the areas with lynx the hunting of rabbits and partridges by other carnivorous animals was reduced to 55.6%. “This discovery is important because these species have an interest for our country and, above all, they are very valuable in rural areas,” explains José Jiménez, a researcher at the institute and the main signatory of the study.
The Iberian lynx acts as the conductor of fauna orchestra. The superpredator, that is, it has no natural predators and is located at the top of its food chain, It structures the ecosystem, manages the terrain and prevents smaller predators from invading the territory of rabbits.
By also feeding on these prey, it enters into competition with the foxes and can get to kill them, either to remove them from the fight or to feed. Faced with such dominance, mesopredadores foxes, garduñas, meloncillos and wild cats leave the area or end up between the teeth of the lynx.
The data highlight that the nine families of foxes descended to one and those of the meloncillos from 37 to eight. “We wanted to show that the lynx, which is under a great threat, has an impact on objects of socio-economic exploitation rabbits and partridges and preserves hunting grounds. We want to influence their acceptability in society, ”insists the expert.
However, an abundance of rabbits is bad for the ecosystem. Faced with this circle that seems vicious, the expert says that the lynx is a specialist in these animals. In fact, the study shows that, in 2014, the group of superpredators chose the areas with the highest number of rabbits.
Although the cat could eat them all, he needs a large space to live so his hunting does not reach large numbers of victims. “Nor can an extinction of rabbits be raised because of him. The lynx is always introduced in a valley where there is a high density of rabbits that also reproduce at high speed, ”says Jiménez. One of the analyzes highlights that in areas where there was no lynx, the rabbit was in decline, devoured by foxes and other carnivores. In short, the lynx eats it,
In order to apply the discovery to everyone, it is essential to use the land as Spanish researchers have done. “I cannot generalize and ensure that it will be the case in all contexts. For this, it will be necessary to implement the same mechanism in the right places, ”says the scientist. The key that Jiménez highlights is that the Iberian lynx has a crucial role for biodiversity and hunting and therefore it must be protected.