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      Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores

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          Abstract

          The collapsing populations of large herbivores will have extensive ecological and social consequences.

          Abstract

          Large wild herbivores are crucial to ecosystems and human societies. We highlight the 74 largest terrestrial herbivore species on Earth (body mass ≥100 kg), the threats they face, their important and often overlooked ecosystem effects, and the conservation efforts needed to save them and their predators from extinction. Large herbivores are generally facing dramatic population declines and range contractions, such that ~60% are threatened with extinction. Nearly all threatened species are in developing countries, where major threats include hunting, land-use change, and resource depression by livestock. Loss of large herbivores can have cascading effects on other species including large carnivores, scavengers, mesoherbivores, small mammals, and ecological processes involving vegetation, hydrology, nutrient cycling, and fire regimes. The rate of large herbivore decline suggests that ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs.

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          Most cited references 89

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          Extinction risk from climate change.

          Climate change over the past approximately 30 years has produced numerous shifts in the distributions and abundances of species and has been implicated in one species-level extinction. Using projections of species' distributions for future climate scenarios, we assess extinction risks for sample regions that cover some 20% of the Earth's terrestrial surface. Exploring three approaches in which the estimated probability of extinction shows a power-law relationship with geographical range size, we predict, on the basis of mid-range climate-warming scenarios for 2050, that 15-37% of species in our sample of regions and taxa will be 'committed to extinction'. When the average of the three methods and two dispersal scenarios is taken, minimal climate-warming scenarios produce lower projections of species committed to extinction ( approximately 18%) than mid-range ( approximately 24%) and maximum-change ( approximately 35%) scenarios. These estimates show the importance of rapid implementation of technologies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for carbon sequestration.
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            Defaunation in the Anthropocene.

            We live amid a global wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss: species and population extirpations and, critically, declines in local species abundance. Particularly, human impacts on animal biodiversity are an under-recognized form of global environmental change. Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this "Anthropocene defaunation"; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet's sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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              Status and ecological effects of the world's largest carnivores.

              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 large carnivores have substantial effects on the structure and function of diverse ecosystems. Significant cascading trophic interactions, mediated by their prey or sympatric mesopredators, arise when some of these carnivores are extirpated from or repatriated to ecosystems. Unexpected effects of trophic cascades on various taxa and processes include changes to bird, mammal, invertebrate, and herpetofauna abundance or richness; subsidies to scavengers; altered disease dynamics; carbon sequestration; modified stream morphology; and crop damage. Promoting tolerance and coexistence with large carnivores is a crucial societal challenge that will ultimately determine the fate of Earth's largest carnivores and all that depends upon them, including humans.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Sci Adv
                Sci Adv
                SciAdv
                advances
                Science Advances
                American Association for the Advancement of Science
                2375-2548
                May 2015
                01 May 2015
                : 1
                : 4
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Trophic Cascades Program, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
                [2 ]Desert Ecology Research Group, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia.
                [3 ]Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
                [4 ]Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa.
                [5 ]Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), C.P. 199, Rio Claro, São Paulo 13506-900, Brazil.
                [6 ]College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Thoday Building, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL572UW, UK.
                [7 ]Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
                [8 ]Lion Program, Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10018, USA.
                [9 ]Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Gauteng 0001, South Africa.
                [10 ]Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Tubney, Abingdon OX13 5QL, UK.
                [11 ]Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK.
                [12 ]Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, P. O. Box 90381, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
                [13 ]Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095–7239, USA.
                1400103
                10.1126/sciadv.1400103
                4640652
                26601172
                Copyright © 2015, The Authors

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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