College of Forestry

Global Trophic Cascades Program

The Leopold Project

The goal of the Leopold Project is to continue the work Aldo Leopold started on topics that intersect forestry and wildlife science and ecosystems. Aldo Leopold is a prime example of the usefulness of working across disciplines to solve complex natural resource problems.

The Leopold Project is our way to put formal emphasis on this multidisciplinary approach to the study, wise use, and conservation of natural resources. Much of our current work involves research on trophic cascades involving wolves, ungulates, and forest ecosystems.

The Spring 2007 edition of OSU's Terra features a cover story on the role of large carnivores in healthy ecosystems. View a pdf of the issue, which includes the article: Large carnivores promote healthy ecosystems by keeping browsers on edge.

View Dr. Ripple's video on aspen, elk and wolves in Yellowstone.

Linking Wolves and Plants: Aldo Leopold on Trophic Cascades
By William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta
Published in the July 2005 issue of BioScience Vol. 55, No.7: pages 613-621.

Aldo Leopold, perhaps best known for his revolutionary and poignant essays about nature, was also an eloquent advocate during the 1930s and 1940s of the need to maintain wolves and other large carnivores in forest and range ecosystems. He indicated that their loss set the stage for ungulate irruptions and ecosystem damage throughout many parts of the United States. We synthesized the historical record on the potential cascading effects of wolf extirpation in the context of recent research. Leopold’s work of decades ago provides an important perspective for understanding the influence of large carnivores, via trophic cascades, upon the status and functioning of forest and range plant communities. Leopold’s personal experiences during an era of extensive biotic changes adds richness, credibility, and even intrigue to the view that present-day interactions between ungulates and plants in United States have been driven to a large degree by the extirpation of wolves and other large carnivores.

Key Words: Aldo Leopold, wolves, ungulates, irruptions, trophic cascades, overabundance