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      Human Population Density and Extinction Risk in the World's Carnivores

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          Understanding why some species are at high risk of extinction, while others remain relatively safe, is central to the development of a predictive conservation science. Recent studies have shown that a species' extinction risk may be determined by two types of factors: intrinsic biological traits and exposure to external anthropogenic threats. However, little is known about the relative and interacting effects of intrinsic and external variables on extinction risk. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we show that extinction risk in the mammal order Carnivora is predicted more strongly by biology than exposure to high-density human populations. However, biology interacts with human population density to determine extinction risk: biological traits explain 80% of variation in risk for carnivore species with high levels of exposure to human populations, compared to 45% for carnivores generally. The results suggest that biology will become a more critical determinant of risk as human populations expand. We demonstrate how a model predicting extinction risk from biology can be combined with projected human population density to identify species likely to move most rapidly towards extinction by the year 2030. African viverrid species are particularly likely to become threatened, even though most are currently considered relatively safe. We suggest that a preemptive approach to species conservation is needed to identify and protect species that may not be threatened at present but may become so in the near future.


          As human populations increase, the importance of intrinsic biological factors in determining which carnivores become extinct will also rise - an interaction that makes some species more threatened than previously thought

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          Most cited references 32

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          Mammal population losses and the extinction crisis.

          The disappearance of populations is a prelude to species extinction. No geographically explicit estimates have been made of current population losses of major indicator taxa. Here we compare historic and present distributions of 173 declining mammal species from six continents. These species have collectively lost over 50% of their historic range area, mostly where human activities are intensive. This implies a serious loss of ecosystem services and goods. It also signals a substantial threat to species diversity.
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            Ecological basis of extinction risk in birds: habitat loss versus human persecution and introduced predators.

            Understanding the ecological mechanisms that underlie extinction is fundamental to conservation. It is well established that not all taxa are equally vulnerable to extinction, but the reasons for these differences are poorly understood. This may be, in part, because different taxa are threatened by different mechanisms. Theoretically, sources of extinction risk that perturb the balance between fecundity and longevity, such as human persecution and introduced predators, should be particularly hazardous for taxa that have slow rates of population growth. In contrast, sources of extinction risk that reduce niche availability, such as habitat loss, should represent a particular threat to taxa that are ecologically specialized. Here we test these predictions by using a phylogenetic comparative method and a database on 95 families of birds. As theory predicts, extinction risk incurred through persecution and introduced predators is associated with large body size and long generation time but is not associated with degree of specialization, whereas extinction risk incurred through habitat loss is associated with habitat specialization and small body size but not with generation time. These results demonstrate the importance of considering separately the multiple mechanisms that underlie contemporary patterns of extinction. They also reveal why it has previously proven so difficult to identify simple ecological correlates of overall extinction risk.
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              A common rule for the scaling of carnivore density.

              Population density in plants and animals is thought to scale with size as a result of mass-related energy requirements. Variation in resources, however, naturally limits population density and may alter expected scaling patterns. We develop and test a general model for variation within and between species in population density across the order Carnivora. We find that 10,000 kilograms of prey supports about 90 kilograms of a given species of carnivore, irrespective of body mass, and that the ratio of carnivore number to prey biomass scales to the reciprocal of carnivore mass. Using mass-specific equations of prey productivity, we show that carnivore number per unit prey productivity scales to carnivore mass near -0.75, and that the scaling rule can predict population density across more than three orders of magnitude. The relationship provides a basis for identifying declining carnivore species that require conservation measures.

                Author and article information

                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                July 2004
                13 July 2004
                : 2
                : 7
                1Department of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London Ascot, United Kingdom
                2Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London London, United Kingdom
                3IUCN Global Mammal Assessment, Species Survival Commission of IUCN and Conservation International Center for Applied Biodiversity Science Biodiversity Assessment Unit, Center for Applied Biodiversity, Conservation International Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America
                4Department of Biology, University of Virginia Charlottesville, VirginiaUnited States of America
                Copyright: © 2004 Cardillo et al. 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
                Research Article

                Life sciences


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