A new experiment on racoon populations has shown that ecosystems might be saved by fear. At the moment this species poses a great threat to smaller animals and thus manages to decimate entire populations in the wildlife. However, scientists may have found a new way to keep them from destroying entire ecosystems.
The experiment was conducted on the Gulf Islands near the British Columbia coast in Canada. On these islands racoons used to be preyed upon by larger predators like bears, cougars and wolves. However, those species were eliminated because they were deemed dangerous by humans. As a result, racoons thrived and started decimating fish, worms and crabs at a very quick pace. They even stated being active during the day, despite the fact that racoons are nocturnal creatures. Their only current natural enemies are domestic dogs.
In this light, scientists started studying ways to bring back the natural balance, even though the islands have no large carnivorous predators. Since bigger carnivores keep the numbers of racoons constant by either harassing or eating them, the pesky creatures have a natural fear of them. Researchers have decided to exploit this innate fear.
In order to prove their point, they set up several speakers on two areas of the coastline of Gulf Island and broadcasted barks of dogs for multiple consecutive months. The reactions of the racoons were captured on cameras. Furthermore, the researchers collected samples from the creatures that are on the racoons’ menu in order to correctly measure the sizes of their populations, and also compared them to the ones where they did not broadcast any sounds.
The results published in the Nature Communications journal demonstrated that the sounds have determined many racoons to avoid going to the coastline, and 66 percent of the animals have started spending less time foraging. Subsequently, they started becoming more wary of their surroundings and they no longer eat a bit of one fish and a bit of one crab before discarding their unfinished carcasses. As a result, the hunted populations started growing once more.
The new system can be used the same way as a scarecrow, in order to scare numerous animals from destroying their surroundings. The fact that ecosystems might be saved by fear can lead us to repairing entire environments, as well as saving species of animals and vegetation. This also proves once more that animals have an emotional side and are thus vulnerable to psychological attacks.
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