James A. Estes's research while affiliated with University of California, Santa Cruz and other places

Publications (171)

Article
History has profoundly affected the composition, distribution and abundances of species in contemporary ecosystems. A full understanding of how ecosystems work and change must therefore take history into account. We offer four well‐studied examples illustrating how a knowledge of history has strengthened interpretations of modern systems: the devel...
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Steller’s sea cow, an extinct sirenian and one of the largest Quaternary mammals, was described by Georg Steller in 1741 and eradicated by humans within 27 years. Here, we complement Steller’s descriptions with paleogenomic data from 12 individuals. We identified convergent evolution between Steller’s sea cow and cetaceans but not extant sirenians,...
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Humans were considered external drivers in much foundational ecological research. A recognition that humans are embedded in the complex interaction networks we study can provide new insight into our ecological paradigms. Here, we use time-series data spanning three decades to explore the effects of human harvesting on otter–urchin–kelp trophic casc...
Article
Most knowledge regarding the role of predators is ecological in nature. Here, we report how disturbance generated by sea otters (Enhydra lutris) digging for infaunal prey in eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows increases genetic diversity by promoting conditions for sexual reproduction of plants. Eelgrass allelic richness and genotypic diversity were,...
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Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) populations in southwest Alaska declined substantially between about 1990 and the most recent set of surveys in 2015. Here we report changes in the distribution and abundance of sea otters, and co‐varying patterns in reproduction, mortality, body size and condition, diet and foraging behavior, food availability, health pr...
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Predator loss and climate change are hallmarks of the Anthropocene yet their interactive effects are largely unknown. Here, we show that massive calcareous reefs, built slowly by the alga Clathromorphum nereostratum over centuries to millennia, are now declining because of the emerging interplay between these two processes. Such reefs, the structur...
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It is a review chapter in a book and discusses how important maintaining long-term research studies is.
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Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are expected to be adversely impacted by a warming Arctic due to melting of the sea‐ice platform from which they hunt ice‐breeding seals. We evaluated the hypothesis that scavenging on stranded large whale carcasses may have facilitated polar bear survival through past interglacial periods during which sea‐ice was limi...
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For tens of thousands of years, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) were a dominant member of eastern North American forest communities, with megaflocks comprising up to several billion individuals. The extinction of passenger pigeons in the early twentieth century undoubtedly influenced associated species and ecosystems as interactions stem...
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Size, growth, and density have been studied for North American Pacific coast sea urchins Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, S. droebachiensis, S. polyacanthus, Mesocentrotus (Strongylocentrotus) franciscanus, Lytechinus pictus, Centrostephanus coronatus, and Arbacia stellata by various workers at diverse sites and for varying lengths of time from 1956...
Chapter
Sea otters are the only fully marine-living mustelid and the smallest extant marine mammal. They have the highest mass-specific metabolic rate of any marine mammal, which coupled with the lack of blubber for insulator and energy storage, relegates them to operating as an extreme income strategist, and appears to have led to a life history tactic in...
Chapter
This chapter examines the complexities of assessing the merits and drawbacks of wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife rehabilitation is often costly, and the resulting benefits differ depending on whether one’s interest is in the welfare of individual animals or conserving populations. Two examples of this dilemma include the rehabilitation of oiled se...
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In our recent perspective article, we noted that most (approximately 0 percent) terrestrial large carnivore and large herbivore species are now threatened with extinction, and we offered a 13-point declaration designed to promote and guide actions to save these iconic mammalian megafauna (Ripple et al. 2016). Some may worry that a focus on saving m...
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The community matrix is among ecology’s most important mathematical abstractions, formally encapsulating the interconnected network of effects that species have on one another’s populations. Despite its importance, the term “community matrix” has been applied to multiple types of matrices that have differing interpretations. This has hindered the a...
Article
Kelp forests (Order Laminariales) form key biogenic habitats in coastal regions of temperate and Arctic seas worldwide, providing ecosystem services valued in the range of billions of dollars annually. Although local evidence suggests that kelp forests are increasingly threatened by a variety of stressors, no comprehensive global analysis of change...
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Here, we identify the extant species of marine megafauna (>45 kg maximum reported mass), provide a conceptual template for the ways in which these species influence the structure and function of ocean ecosystems, and review the published evidence for such influences. Ecological influences of more than 90% of the 338 known species of extant ocean me...
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Robert T. Paine, who passed away on 13 June 2016, is among the most influential people in the history of ecology. Paine was an experimentalist, a theoretician, a practitioner and proponent of the “ecology of place”, and a deep believer in the importance of natural history to ecological understanding. His scientific legacy grew from the discovery of...
Article
Few concepts in ecology have been so influential as that of the trophic cascade. Since the 1980s, the term has been a central or major theme of more than 2000 scientific articles. Despite this importance and widespread usage, basic questions remain about what constitutes a trophic cascade. Inconsistent usage of language impedes scientific progress...
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From the late Pleistocene to the Holocene and now the so-called Anthropocene, humans have been driving an ongoing series of species declines and extinctions (Dirzo et al. 2014). Large-bodied mammals are typically at a higher risk of extinction than smaller ones (Cardillo et al. 2005). However, in some circumstances, terrestrial megafauna population...
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The late Pleistocene extinction of so many large-bodied vertebrates has been variously attributed to two general causes: rapid climate change and the effects of humans as they spread from the Old World to previously uninhabited continents and islands. Many large-bodied vertebrates, especially large apex predators, maintain their associated ecosyste...
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As climatic changes and human uses intensify, resource managers and other decision makers are taking actions to either avoid or respond to ecosystem tipping points, or dramatic shifts in structure and function that are often costly and hard to reverse. Evidence indicates that explicitly addressing tipping points leads to improved management outcome...
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Intraspecific variation in behavior and diet can have important consequences for population and ecosystem dynamics. Here, we examine how differences in reproductive investment and spatial ecology influence individual diet specialization in male and female southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). We hypothesize that greater reproductive constrai...
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Marine defaunation, or human-caused animal loss in the oceans, emerged forcefully only hundreds of years ago, whereas terrestrial defaunation has been occurring far longer. Though humans have caused few global marine extinctions, we have profoundly affected marine wildlife, altering the functioning and provisioning of services in every ocean. Curre...
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An age-old conflict around a seemingly simple question has resurfaced: why do we conserve nature? Contention around this issue has come and gone many times, but in the past several years we believe that it has reappeared as an increasingly acrimonious debate between, in essence, those who argue that nature should be protected for its own sake (intr...
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Baleen and sperm whales, known collectively as the great whales, include the largest animals in the history of life on Earth. With high metabolic demands and large populations, whales probably had a strong influence on marine ecosystems before the advent of industrial whaling: as consumers of fish and invertebrates; as prey to other large-bodied pr...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Ecologists lack a clear model for how to incorporate information on consumer mobility into investigations of how communities are structured and how they operate. This deficiency is becoming increasingly apparent as new technologies broaden our insight into the dynamics of consumer mobility. Classically, ecologists draw...
Article
Most of what ocean scientists know or believe to be true about ecological process in the open sea is necessarily based on correlative inferences, the interpretation of time series without direct evidence for cause and effect. This situation arises in part from the near impossibility of studying ocean ecosystems experimentally at appropriate scales...
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Understanding the biogeochemical processes regulating carbon cycling is central to mitigating atmospheric CO2 emissions. The role of living organisms has been accounted for, but the focus has traditionally been on contributions of plants and microbes. We develop the case that fully “animating” the carbon cycle requires broader consideration of the...
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This study used benthic surveys and manipulative experiments to examine (1) if boundaries between kelp forests and urchin barrens exist at multiple locations spanning the Aleutian Archipelago, (2) if these boundaries are spatially stable, and (3) how changes in algal density within the kelp forests influence the ability of urchins to invade them. O...
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Large carnivores face serious threats and are experiencing massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges around the world. We highlight how these threats have affected the conservation status and ecological functioning of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores on Earth. Consistent with theory, empirical studies increasingly show that lar...
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Overfishing and environmental change have triggered many severe and unexpected consequences. As existing communities have collapsed, new ones have become established, fundamentally transforming ecosystems to those that are often less productive for fisheries, more prone to cycles of booms and busts, and thus less manageable. We contend that the fai...
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San Nicolas Island is surrounded by broad areas of shallow subtidal habitat, characterized by dynamic kelp forest communities that undergo dramatic and abrupt shifts in community composition. Although these reefs are fished, the physical isolation of the island means that they receive less impact from human activities than most reefs in Southern Ca...
Conference Paper
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Background/Question/Methods Many ecological communities exhibit alternative states characterized by fundamentally different species abundances, with one state often being less desirable than the other. The threat of tipping points between these states -- whereby even small, incrememental changes in a driving variable can lead to large-scale reorg...
Article
Living nature can be thought of as a tapestry, defined not only by its constituent parts but also by how these parts are woven together. The weaving of this tapestry is a metaphor for species interactions, which can be divided into three broad classes: competitive, mutualistic, and consumptive. Direct interactions link together as more complex netw...
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Species interactions are best seen and understood through perturbations of the species themselves. These perturbations can be accomplished on small scales through controlled manipulations, but they sometimes happen on larger scales through more fortuitous contrasts over space or time. We used similarities and differences between the North Atlantic...
Article
The structuring and organizing effects of apex predators on ecosystems are becoming increasingly well documented. The enhancement of kelp forests via sea otter predation on herbivorous sea urchins is among the earliest and best known examples. This study provides evidence for direct and indirect trophic interactions among sea otters, predatory sea...
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We combine data collected from the past 40 years to estimate the indirect effects of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) on ecosystem carbon (C) production and storage across their North American range, from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. We find that sea otters, by suppressing sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus spp) populat...
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There is growing evidence for individuality in dietary preferences and foraging behaviors within populations of various species. This is especially important for apex predators, since they can potentially have wide dietary niches and a large impact on trophic dynamics within ecosystems. We evaluate the diet of an apex predator, the white shark (Car...
Data
The compiled prey isotope values from the literature and unpublished data used in Figure 2. (DOC)
Data
Photo showing annual growth bands before (left) and after drilling (right) on specimen WS101. Ages are also noted next to the growth bands. (TIF)
Data
The ontogeny of δ13C values for the 15 white sharks analyzed for this study. Individuals are in the same A, B, and C groups as Figure 1. (TIF)
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Large predators are often highly mobile and can traverse and use multiple habitats. We know surprisingly little about how predator mobility determines important processes of ecosystem connectivity. Here we used a variety of data sources drawn from Palmyra Atoll, a remote tropical marine ecosystem where large predators remain in high abundance, to i...
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We measured the concentrations and chemical structures of persistent organochlorines (OCs) in blue mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from 44 sites across southwest and southeast Alaska in an effort to determine both the sources of these compounds and the extent to which this region might be contaminated. High PCB concentrations were detected at Amchitka,...
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Ecology Letters (2012) 15: 475–483 Studies of consumer-resource interactions suggest that individual diet specialisation is empirically widespread and theoretically important to the organisation and dynamics of populations and communities. We used weighted networks to analyze the resource use by sea otters, testing three alternative models for how...
Article
Gene transcription analysis for diagnosing or monitoring wildlife health requires the ability to distinguish pathophysiological change from natural variation. Herein, we describe methodology for the development of quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays to measure differential transcript levels of multiple immune function gen...
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Until recently, large apex consumers were ubiquitous across the globe and had been for millions of years. The loss of these animals may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature. Although such losses are widely viewed as an ethical and aesthetic problem, recent research reveals extensive cascading effects of their disappearance in marine, t...
Article
We used the extirpation, reintroduction, and spread of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) along the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, to evaluate how the otter—urchin—algae trophic cascade creates variation in rocky reef community structure over space and time. By repeatedly sampling both randomly selected and permanently marked sites in areas where...
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Management of sustainable fisheries depends upon reliable estimates of stock assessment. Assessment of many stocks is based entirely on fishery-dependent data (e.g., catch per unit effort), which can be problematic. Here we use fishery-independent data on stock size, collected within and outside of no-take reserves before and after the onset of fis...
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How best to predict the effects of perturbations to ecological communities has been a long-standing goal for both applied and basic ecology. This quest has recently been revived by new empirical data, new analysis methods, and increased computing speed, with the promise that ecologically important insights may be obtainable from a limited knowledge...
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Sea otters Enhydra lutris can be bycaught and drowned in fishing pots and traps, which may pose a threat to the welfare of otter populations. We explored this potential problem and its solutions using a wide variety of analyses. We exposed live California (USA) sea otters to finfish traps, lobster traps, and mock Dungeness crab traps in captive tri...
Article
Although rarely reported in the past, predation by sea otters (Enhydra lutris) on seabirds has been observed more frequently in the last decade. A total of 23 incidents of definite or probable predation on seabirds have been observed in California (20) and in Alaska at Amchitka Island (3). In California, the most commonly eaten species were western...
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As part of tagging and ecologic research efforts in 1997 and 1998, apparently healthy sea otters of four age-sex classes in six locations in Alaska and three in California were sampled for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other chemicals of ecologic or environmental concern (COECs). Published techniques for the detection of POPs (specifical...
Article
The ability to quantify dietary inputs using stable isotope data depends on accurate estimates of isotopic differences between a consumer (c) and its diet (d), commonly referred to as trophic discrimination factors (TDFs) and denoted by Δ c-d . At present, TDFs are available for only a few mammals and are usually derived in captive settings. The ma...
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The ability to quantify dietary inputs using stable isotope data depends on accurate estimates of isotopic differences between a consumer (c) and its diet (d), commonly referred to as trophic discrimination factors (TDFs) and denoted by delta(c-d). At present, TDFs are available for only a few mammals and are usually derived in captive settings. Th...
Article
Recovery criteria for depleted species or populations normally are based on demographic measures, the goal being to maintain enough individuals over a sufficiently large area to assure a socially tolerable risk of future extinction. Such demographically based recovery criteria may be insufficient to restore the functional roles of strongly interact...