· ·

Loss of top animal predators has massive ecological effects

loss-of-top-animal-predators-has-massive-ecological-effects

Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth,” a review paper that was published on July 15, 2011, in the journal Science, concludes that the decline of large predators and herbivores in all regions of the world is causing substantial changes to Earth’s terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

The paper claims that the loss of apex consumers from ecosystems “may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.” The research was funded primarily by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University.

The paper is co-authored by the Institute’s executive director, Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, and the lead author is Dr. James A. Estes, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The review, conducted by an international team of 24 scientists, illuminates the patterns and far-reaching impacts of predation and herbivory on the structure and dynamics of global ecosystems. The researchers relied on both experimental and observational evidence, which provides a strong basis for their conclusions.

By looking at ecosystems primarily from the bottom up, scientists and resource managers have been focusing on only half of a very complex equation. These findings demonstrate that top consumers in the food web are enormous influencers of the structure, function, and biodiversity of most natural ecosystems.

Apex consumers include animals such as big cats, wolves, bison, sharks, and great whales, and are typically large, long-lived, and not amenable to laboratory experiments. As a result, the effects of removing them from ecosystems are not easy to document. The team of scientists reviewed an accumulation of theoretical and empirical evidence on how the decline of top predators and herbivores has affected Earth’s ecosystems on land, in freshwater, and in the ocean.

Their findings suggest that “trophic downgrading” – the ecological consequences of losing large apex consumers from nature – causes extensive cascading effects in ecosystems worldwide, especially when exacerbated by factors such as land use practices, climate changes, habitat loss, and pollution.

This paper documents some of the negative effects that the widespread loss of these animals has already had on Earth’s biosphere, climate, biodiversity, and vegetation:

+ The reduction of lions and leopards from areas of sub-Saharan Africa caused the baboon population to swell. This unexpectedly increased transmission of intestinal parasites from baboons to humans as the primates were forced to forage closer to human settlements.

+ As large ungulates recovered from a devastating rinderpest epidemic in the Serengeti in Africa, herbivory increased, and the frequency of wildfire declined in that region. Wildfire frequency increased following the late Pleistocene/early Holocene decline of megaherbivores in Australia and the northeastern United States.

+ Industrial whaling in the 20th century resulted in the loss of large numbers of plankton-consuming great whales, which are now known to sequester carbon into the deep sea through deposition of feces. The result has been the transfer of approximately 105 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere that would have been absorbed by whales, contributing to climate change. (TerraDaily)

 

We must assume going forward that significant changes to the ecosystem are occurring when large predators and herbivores are removed from the top of the food web, and, thus, that efforts to manage and conserve nature must include these animals,” said Dr. Pikitch. “An old paradigm has shifted, and those who question this theory now have the burden to prove otherwise.”

If you value what we do here, create your ad-free account and support our journalism.

Share:


Your support makes a difference

Dear valued reader,

We hope that our website has been a valuable resource for you.

The reality is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to maintain and grow this website. We rely on the support of readers like you to keep providing high-quality content.

If you have found our website to be helpful, please consider making a contribution to help us continue to bring you the information you need. Your support means the world to us and helps us to keep doing what we love.

Support us by choosing your support level – Silver, Gold or Platinum. Other support options include Patreon pledges and sending us a one-off payment using PayPal.

Thank you for your consideration. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Teo Blašković

$5 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$50 /year

$10 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$100 /year

$25 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$200 /year

You can also support us on Patreon

support us on patreon

or by sending us a one-off payment using PayPal:


Commenting rules and guidelines

We value the thoughts and opinions of our readers and welcome healthy discussions on our website. In order to maintain a respectful and positive community, we ask that all commenters follow these rules:

  • Treat others with kindness and respect.
  • Stay on topic and contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
  • Do not use abusive or hateful language.
  • Do not spam or promote unrelated products or services.
  • Do not post any personal information or content that is illegal, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate.

We reserve the right to remove any comments that violate these rules. By commenting on our website, you agree to abide by these guidelines. Thank you for helping to create a positive and welcoming environment for all.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *