Are ecosystems structured from the top-down or bottom-up: a new look at an old debate
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): C. E. Kay
Publication Year: 1998

Cataloging Information

  • aboriginal overkill
  • aborigines
  • age classes
  • Alces alces
  • aspen
  • beaver
  • bison
  • Canis lupus
  • Cervus elaphus
  • diseases
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • elk
  • fire frequency
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • forest management
  • habits and behavior
  • human caused fires
  • hunting
  • keystone predation
  • keystone species
  • keystone species
  • land management
  • lightning caused fires
  • mammals
  • national park management
  • national parks
  • Native Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Odocoileus hemionus
  • Odocoileus virginianus
  • Ovis canadensis
  • population density
  • Populus tremuloides
  • predation
  • predation
  • predators
  • presettlement fires
  • rate of spread
  • Salix
  • Ursus arctos
  • Utah
  • wildfires
  • wildlife
  • wildlife food habits
  • wildlife habitat management
  • wildlife management
  • willows
  • Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 46351
Tall Timbers Record Number: 22066
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Journals-W and
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Whether ecosystems are structured from the top-down (i.e., predator driven) or bottom-up (i.e., food limited) has been debated by ecologists for nearly a century. Many marine and freshwater aquatic systems appear to be under top-down control, but less evidence exists that predators have had a similar effect in terrestrial systems, especially those systems involving large ungulates. Earlier research, however, omitted any serious discussion of Native Americans. Contrary to prevailing beliefs, Native Americans were not conservationists, and they had dramatic impacts on wildlife populations. Native Americans were the ultimate keystone predator and the ultimate keystone species through activities such as aboriginal burning. Moreover, the idea that North America was a 'wilderness' untouched by the hand of man prior to 1492 A.D. is incorrect, as recent population estimates indicate that native people may have numbered as many as 100 million, or more, before they were decimated by introduced diseases and other colonial processes. Until the importance of aboriginal land management is recognized and modern management practices change accordingly, our ecosystems will continue to lose the biological diversity and ecological integrity they once had, even in national parks and other protected areas. © The Wildlife Society. Abstract reproduced by permission.

Online Link(s):
Kay, C. E. 1998. Are ecosystems structured from the top-down or bottom-up: a new look at an old debate. Wildlife Society Bulletin, v. 26, no. 3, p. 484-498.