CORVALLIS, Ore. – William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, will receive the Spirit of Defenders Award for Science this month from the Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization dedicated to preserving native wildlife species and habitats.
The honor recognizes Ripple’s pioneering work in the study of “trophic cascades” and the importance of large predators to the proper function of entire ecosystems.
Ripple, OSU colleague Robert Beschta and graduate students have done numerous studies in recent years outlining how the decline or disappearance of predators such as wolves and cougars has led to massive ecosystem changes in everything from vegetation and tree survival to streams and insect life.
The other three individuals to be honored at the reception in September in Washington, D.C., are Ted Turner, receiving a legacy award; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, receiving an award for public service; and Terry Pelster, an award for citizen advocacy.
Founded in 1947, the Defenders of Wildlife is a national leader in science-based wildlife conservation, with a goal of protecting all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. It has more than one million members and activists worldwide.
Some of the early work done by the OSU researchers has been in Yellowstone National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves has stopped decades of decline in aspen and stream ecosystems, caused by excessive populations and uncontrolled behavior of elk. As elk populations were reduced and their grazing behavior changed by what scientists refer to as the “ecology of fear,” streams, trees and many other plants and animals have begun a solid recovery.
The researchers have helped define how the loss of large predators is important not just for population control of grazing animals, but how the fear of predation dramatically changes their behavior, 365 days a year, day and night. In a range of sites, often at national parks in the United States, the scientists have observed much the same forces at work.
Ripple received his doctorate from OSU and has been on the OSU faculty since 1984.