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      Global nutrient transport in a world of giants

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          Abstract

          The past was a world of giants, with abundant whales in the sea and large animals roaming the land. However, that world came to an end following massive late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions on land and widespread population reductions in great whale populations over the past few centuries. These losses are likely to have had important consequences for broad-scale nutrient cycling, because recent literature suggests that large animals disproportionately drive nutrient movement. We estimate that the capacity of animals to move nutrients away from concentration patches has decreased to about 8% of the preextinction value on land and about 5% of historic values in oceans. For phosphorus (P), a key nutrient, upward movement in the ocean by marine mammals is about 23% of its former capacity (previously about 340 million kg of P per year). Movements by seabirds and anadromous fish provide important transfer of nutrients from the sea to land, totalling ∼150 million kg of P per year globally in the past, a transfer that has declined to less than 4% of this value as a result of the decimation of seabird colonies and anadromous fish populations. We propose that in the past, marine mammals, seabirds, anadromous fish, and terrestrial animals likely formed an interlinked system recycling nutrients from the ocean depths to the continental interiors, with marine mammals moving nutrients from the deep sea to surface waters, seabirds and anadromous fish moving nutrients from the ocean to land, and large animals moving nutrients away from hotspots into the continental interior.

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          Most cited references 30

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          Linking Marine and Terrestrial Food Webs: Allochthonous Input from the Ocean Supports High Secondary Productivity on Small Islands and Coastal Land Communities

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            Introduced predators transform subarctic islands from grassland to tundra.

            Top predators often have powerful direct effects on prey populations, but whether these direct effects propagate to the base of terrestrial food webs is debated. There are few examples of trophic cascades strong enough to alter the abundance and composition of entire plant communities. We show that the introduction of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) to the Aleutian archipelago induced strong shifts in plant productivity and community structure via a previously unknown pathway. By preying on seabirds, foxes reduced nutrient transport from ocean to land, affecting soil fertility and transforming grasslands to dwarf shrub/forb-dominated ecosystems.
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              Agronomic phosphorus imbalances across the world's croplands.

              Increased phosphorus (P) fertilizer use and livestock production has fundamentally altered the global P cycle. We calculated spatially explicit P balances for cropland soils at 0.5° resolution based on the principal agronomic P inputs and outputs associated with production of 123 crops globally for the year 2000. Although agronomic inputs of P fertilizer (14.2 Tg of P·y(-1)) and manure (9.6 Tg of P·y(-1)) collectively exceeded P removal by harvested crops (12.3 Tg of P·y(-1)) at the global scale, P deficits covered almost 30% of the global cropland area. There was massive variation in the magnitudes of these P imbalances across most regions, particularly Europe and South America. High P fertilizer application relative to crop P use resulted in a greater proportion of the intense P surpluses (>13 kg of P·ha(-1)·y(-1)) globally than manure P application. High P fertilizer application was also typically associated with areas of relatively low P-use efficiency. Although manure was an important driver of P surpluses in some locations with high livestock densities, P deficits were common in areas producing forage crops used as livestock feed. Resolving agronomic P imbalances may be possible with more efficient use of P fertilizers and more effective recycling of manure P. Such reforms are needed to increase global agricultural productivity while maintaining or improving freshwater quality.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                January 26 2016
                January 26 2016
                January 26 2016
                October 26 2015
                : 113
                : 4
                : 868-873
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1502549112
                4743783
                26504209
                © 2015

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