Below is a copy of the press release for our new paper titled:
“Bushmeat hunting and extinction risk to the world’s mammals”
Contact: Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783, email@example.com
Source: William Ripple, 541-737-3056, firstname.lastname@example.org
Links to photos are at the end of this story.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — The ongoing decline of more than 300 species of animals is having significant environmental impacts and posing a food security threat for millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America, according to the first global assessment of the hunting and trapping of terrestrial mammals.
Species of large wild ungulates, primates and bats are threatened primarily due to unregulated or illegal hunting, according to data collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a nongovernmental organization. An international research team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, analyzed data on the IUCN Red List to reach their conclusions.
The animals at risk range across the spectrum from large (grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs) to small (golden-capped fruit bat, black-bearded flying fox and Bulmer’s fruit bat). Hunting endangers more primate species — 126, including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys, than any other group.
Populations of other species are declining and similarly threatened: Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores, all of which are hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets.
Scientists reviewed IUCN data on 1,169 of the world’s terrestrial mammals that are listed as threatened with extinction. These animals represent 26 percent of all mammals for which data exist to determine whether or not they are endangered. The research team published its analysis today in Royal Society Open Science, a professional journal.
Forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming “empty landscapes,” the authors wrote.
The researchers suggested five broad steps for effectively addressing the threat:
- Laws could be changed to increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking and to expand protected habitats for endangered mammals.
- Property rights could be provided to to communities that benefit from the presence of wildlife.
- Food alternatives can help shift consumption to more sustainable species, especially protein-rich plant foods.
- Education could help consumers in all countries understand the threats to mammals that are hunted or trapped.
- Assistance in family planning could help relieve pressure on wildlife in regions where women want to delay or avoid pregnancy.
The researchers suggest that, to curb this overhunting crisis, more logistical and financial support will be needed from the richer developed countries. They conclude that only bold changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.
“Our analysis is conservative,” said Ripple. “These 301 species are the worst cases of declining mammal populations for which hunting and trapping are clearly identified as a major threat. If data for a species were missing or inconclusive, we didn’t include it.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of this global crisis. Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction,” he added. “The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”
People across much of the globe depend on wild meat for part of their diets, the researchers noted. For example, they wrote, “an estimated 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million are harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon, and exploitation rates in the Congo basin are estimated to be five times higher….” Loss of these mammals could affect the livelihoods of millions of people, the researchers said.
Overhunting of mammals is concentrated, they added, in countries with poorer populations. As hunters find it harder to feed their families, it is likely they will switch to less preferred species, migrate or suffer from malnutrition and disease.
Not all wild meat is consumed for subsistence, the researchers noted. Much of it is sold in markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants. In 2010, another team of scientists found that about five tons of bushmeat are smuggled weekly in tourist luggage through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Large carnivores and herbivores (bigger than 10 kilograms or 22 pounds) comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tend to be impacted more severely by overhunting, the researchers reported. By dispersing seeds and controlling smaller animals such as rodents, large animals have significant impacts on the environment.
The loss of large mammals could lead to long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans, the researchers said. The scientists found that 57 species of even-toed ungulates (such as hippopotamus, wild yak, camel, marsh deer) larger than 10 kilograms are threatened by hunting.
Smaller mammals play crucial roles in dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and controlling insects. The largest group of mammals under 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) threatened by hunting is comprised of 27 species of bats.
Ripple has led international collaborations to analyze the status and ecological effects of large animals. Co-authors on this project include researchers at Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of California Santa Barbara and universities in Gabon, the U.K., Sweden, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.
Editor: Photos of some of the animals mentioned in this story are available on Flickr:
- Clouded leopard, https://flic.kr/p/MwEGqt
- Giant ground pangolin, https://flic.kr/p/MwEsuc
- Mountain gorilla, https://flic.kr/p/MwEmyp
- Collared brown lemur, https://flic.kr/p/LzeDQ7
- Aye-aye, https://flic.kr/p/LzhSu8
About the OSU College of Forestry: For a century, the College of Forestry has been a world class center of teaching, learning and research. It offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs in sustaining ecosystems, managing forests and manufacturing wood products; conducts basic and applied research on the nature and use of forests; and operates 14,000 acres of college forests.
Chris Watson, a colleague from my time in Alice Springs, recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome“.
Below is a copy of the review and links to the original webpages.
“Desert lands have an appealing starkness and simplicity. The very grain of the countryside is exposed to all. Ancient mountain ranges plunge and rear from the plains. Rocks and boulders lie tumbled at their feet. Dry watercourses break through mountain gorges to meander and die in the desert. Stunted trees stand mutely enduring the heat.
Biological survival in such a land is not simple.” – p.15-16
It is just such a land, however, which is home to the Red Kangaroo Osphranter rufus; the largest extant marsupial on Earth and Australia’s largest terrestrial mammal. The Red Kangaroo is an Australian icon that ranks with Uluru and the Sydney Opera House for international recognition. The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia presents the gathered thoughts and findings on the species, from the early work of one of the great minds of Australian ecology.
Alan Newsome’s work was already familiar to me when I gained employment as an environmental consultant in Alice Springs in 2011. As it happens, Alan’s son, Thomas Newsome, was working at the firm which took me on, and I’d learn that he is a gifted ecologist in his own right. I’d been living in Central Australia for several years at that time and, being interested in the ecology of Central Australian fauna, Alan Newsome’s name was a regular feature on my reading list. Though I only worked with Thomas for a short time, my excitement at the publication of The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia comes, not only from my own affinity for the country and animals that it describes, but from an appreciation of his standing, and his father’s, in the Australian ecological community.
Alan began studying the Red Kangaroo in 1957 and it’s important to appreciate how rudimentary our understanding of the animal’s ecology was at that time. Alan was the first to discover many of the behavioural and physiological adaptations that have allowed the species to live so successfully in a landscape with such famously extreme and irregular conditions. Working on the beautiful plains to the north of the MacDonnell Range, Alan methodically uncovered the mysteries of the Red Kangaroo’s life. His book takes us through the challenges the kangaroo must overcome to survive in this country in chapters dealing with the landforms, climate and vegetation; distribution and abundance; reproduction (some of Alan’s most astonishing discoveries relate to the reproductive biology of the Red Kangaroo and these breakthroughs, and the methods by which they were revealed, are presented in considerable detail); food and water; sociology and a final chapter titled Ecomythology.
In addition to the main body of text there is an enlightening foreword by famed marsupial biologist Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe and a preface by Thomas Newsome in his role as co-author and editor. [Alan Newsome passed away in 2007. This book is the edited result of a mostly complete manuscript which Thomas discovered among Alan’s effects in 2010.]
In the intervening decades since Alan Newsome’s field work, another generation of ecologists has built on his findings and we understand the Red Kangaroo’s biology well. But perhaps the great story presented by The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia, and a thread running through the entire book, is Alan’s determination to also come to grips with the Aranda* understanding of kangaroo ecology.
Like few other outback zoologists since Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, Newsome allows room for Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) to be interpreted scientifically and considered alongside his own findings. The culmination of the book is in the final chapter titled Ecomythology in which Alan sets out the close alignment of his own hard-won knowledge with the traditional knowledge of his Aranda colleagues. The world has turned now and it is routine for IEK to be incorporated into scientific research and reporting, but we see the foundations of this practice in Alan’s work at a time when such considerations were by no means commonplace.
In addition to the book’s value as an important work of science and history, it is a beautiful piece of writing. As the brief excerpt I’ve used reveals, Alan’s was an engaging writing style, as stripped-back and plain as the desert landscapes he describes. As an avowed desert-lover myself, Alan’s deep affection for the country in which he spent so much of his career, is instantly relatable from the way he writes about it. He also had that all-too-rare talent for rendering scientific writing enjoyable for the reader, without sacrificing any of its rigour. The ease of his style is such that The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia reads more like a story than a scientific treatise at times. This is testament to his ability to render deep scholarship comprehensible to the lay-reader rather than any “dumbing down” or skimping on detail.
Ultimately, The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia will appeal to an audience far beyond the ranks of biologists. It includes almost as much history and anthropology as it does ecology. It’s difficult to avoid drawing comparisons with the writings of other prominent Centralian researchers like T.G.H. Strehlow, with whom Alan discussed his work at some length, and the correspondence of the aforementioned Spencer and Gillen.
As well as being a peerless account of animal ecology and scientific investigation in the desert, it is a postcard from Central Australia and the ecological adventures of a young scientist on a personal journey of discovery. There is no doubt that The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia will continue to inspire and inform future generations of Australian ecologists for a very long time to come.
*Also spelled Arrernte and Arunta, these are the Aboriginal Australians who are the traditional custodians of the lands surrounding Alice Springs and much of the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia.
Thanks Chris for the kind review.
In collaboration with more than 40 other scientist we published an opinion article in the journal BioScience calling for a coordinated global plan to prevent the world’s megafauna from extinction.
You can access a full copy of the paper HERE
A key part of the paper is the following declaration:
We conservation scientists
Acknowledge that most of the terrestrial megafauna species are threatened with extinction and have declining populations. Some megafauna species that are not globally threatened nonetheless face local extinctions or have Critically Endangered subspecies.
Appreciate that “business as usual” will result in the loss of many of the Earth’s most iconic species.
Understand that megafauna have ecological roles that directly and indirectly affect ecosystem processes and other species throughout the food web; failure to reverse megafaunal declines will disrupt species interactions, with negative consequences for ecosystem function; biological diversity; and the ecological, economic, and social services that these species provide.
Realize that megafauna are epitomized as a symbol of the wilderness, exemplifying the public’s engagement in nature, and that this is a driving force behind efforts to maintain the ecosystem services they can provide.
Recognize the importance of integrating and better aligning human development and biodiversity conservation needs through the engagement and support of local communities in developing countries.
Propose that funding agencies and scientists increase conservation research efforts in developing countries, where most threatened megafauna occur. Specifically, there is a need to increase the amount of research directed at finding solutions for the conservation of megafauna, especially for lesser-known species.
Request the help of individuals, governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations to stop practices that are harmful to these species and to actively engage in helping to reverse declines in megafauna.
Strive for increased awareness among the global public of the current megafauna crisis using traditional media as well as social media and other networking approaches.
Seek a new and comprehensive global commitment and framework for conserving megafauna. The international community should take necessary action to prevent mass extinction of the world’s megafauna and other species.
Urge the development of new funding mechanisms to transfer the current benefits accrued through the existence values of megafauna into tangible payments to support research, conservation actions, and local people who bear the cost of living with wildlife in the places where highly valued megafauna must be preserved.
Advocate for interdisciplinary scientific interchange between nations to improve the social and ecological understanding of the drivers of the decline of megafauna and to increase the capacity for megafauna science and conservation.
Recommend the reintroduction and rehabilitation, following accepted IUCN guidelines, of degraded megafauna populations whenever possible, the ecological and economic importance of which is evidenced by a growing number of success stories, from Yellowstone’s wolves (Canis lupus) and the Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) in China to the various megafauna species of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
Affirm an abiding moral obligation to protect the Earth’s megafauna.
We hope the paper stimulates discussion and action to help save the world’s terrestrial megafauna from extinction.
Ian Fraser who is a Canberra-based professional naturalist and writer recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome“.
Below is a copy of the review and links to the original webpages.
“When I was a shy young teenager growing up in a housing trust suburb of Adelaide, a most interesting family moved next door for a while. He was a tall dark-haired quietly spoken young biologist doing a PhD at Adelaide University; even then I was fascinated by the natural world and he was a natural hero for me. His name was Alan Newsome, and in later years I followed his zoological career with interest. You may recall that he came to temporary prominence as the CSIRO dingo expert at the Lindy Chamberlain trial, but he deserves to be remembered for much more than that. He was one of the greats in a line of Australian desert zoologists, which includes such names as Hedley Finlayson, Francis Ratcliffe, Tim Ealey, Graham Caughley and Geoff Sharman. In particular he was instrumental in unravelling many secrets of the Red Kangaroo and the Dingo over decades of complex and diligent work in central Australia, working closely with pastoralists and indigenous communities. This is an interesting and historically highly significant book, published by his son Thomas (himself a professional ecologist) from notes he found in the Canberra family garage after Alan died in 2007. It was an account of the results of his years of desert research into the Red Kangaroo, its ecology and its interactions with the pastoral industry, and was supposed to be published at the time – Thomas found letters from the publisher asking that it be completed – but it never was. Cannily, Thomas finishes the book with a reprint of a paper Alan published in 1980, on ‘Eco-mythology’ – a comparison of indigenous stories and modern ecology, in which he found that the stories made perfect sense when seen through the lens of ecology. This was one of Alan’s most important achievements. I am personally delighted that this book has been published, and in the broader world it fully deserves an honoured place in the Australian zoological literature.”
Thanks Ian for the kind review.
It’s been a while since my last post, but a lot has happened in 2016. Three exciting updates are outlined below.
Update 1: Book Release
You can view a copy of the promotional material, including how to pre-order a copy of my new book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia: An Early Account by AE Newsome” HERE
Update 2: New Paper – Food Habits of the World’s Grey Wolves
In this paper we provide the first comprehensive review of grey wolf diets around the world. Below is a copy of abstract, and you can view the paper HERE
1. Grey wolves (Canis lupus) have been studied extensively, but there has been no detailed review of the species’ feeding ecology. This is despite growing debate about how to conserve wolf populations while limiting their impacts on wild or domestic ungulates. Here, we assess the extent to which grey wolf diet varies among and within North America, Europe and Asia. We discuss the implications of the results for conservation and management.
2. We derived dietary data from searches of published literature. We grouped studies based on their bioregional location. We compared grey wolf diet among locations using nonmetric multidimensional scaling and analysis of similarity. We assessed whether increased human impacts would decrease grey wolf dietary diversity. Finally, using studies from southern Europe, we assessed whether the proportion of wild ungulates in grey wolf diet increased over time, coincident with a decline in domestic species in grey wolf diet over time.
3. We compiled dietary data from 177 studies incorporating 94,607 scat and stomach samples. Grey wolf diet was dominated by large (240-650 kg) and medium-sized (23-130 kg) wild ungulates, but variation in the proportion of wild ungulates consumed, along with high proportions of domestic and smaller prey species consumed, contributed to the dietary differences found among and within continents.
4. We found no evidence that grey wolf dietary diversity varies globally. However, the result from southern Europe suggests that grey wolves may switch their diets away from domestic species if more wild ungulates are available.
5. The diversity of prey consumed by grey wolves highlights that the species is capable of surviving dramatic anthropogenic upheaval. However, there is an urgent need to increase our understanding of grey wolf foraging ecology in human-dominated landscapes to determine whether restoration of depleted prey populations, coupled with effective damage-prevention measures, will reduce human-wolf conflicts.
Update 3: New Paper – Our Take on the Trophy Hunting Debate
An exciting opportunity exists for a PhD student to study wolf-cougar interactions in Washington State, U.S.A.
For details on how to apply for the fully funded position please read carefully the position description below.
University of Washington
Graduate Assistantships (PhD)
Full support (stipend, tuition, and medical benefits) provided for 4 years.
Last Date to Apply
After an 80-year absence, the gray wolf is naturally recolonizing the Pacific Northwest of the United States, dispersing from populations in the Rocky Mountains and British Columbia. This process has raised questions about how wolves might interact with other predators and prey as well as the their economic impacts in managed landscapes where logging, cattle ranching and hunting are permitted. One interesting scenario is that wolves could alter the behavior of the region’s other top predator, the cougar, and as a result modify patterns of predation on native ungulate populations. Our goal is to explore this possibility using a natural experiment that compares movements and foraging behavior of cougars before and after wolf recolonization.
We seek a highly motivated doctoral student who will have the opportunity to 1) capture, handle, and deploy GPS collars on cougars; 2) inspect cougar kill sites to quantify prey selection and kill rates; 3) undertake spatial and statistical analyses of cougar behavior prior to and after the arrival of wolves; and 4) collaborate with a diverse group of researchers.
This project falls under the umbrella of a larger study led by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) whose overarching goal is to understand whether and how the return of wolves is affecting native ecosystem dynamics and, in particular, ungulate populations. Thus, the student will work closely with WDFW and collaborate with other researchers exploring ungulate behavior and demography while completing a Ph.D. in Environmental and Forest Sciences (http://www.sefs.washington.edu/) at the University of Washington under the co-supervision of Associate Professor Aaron Wirsing (University of Washington), Dr Thomas Newsome (Deakin University / University of Sydney / Oregon State University), and Dr Brian Kertson (WDFW). The student will conduct field research at sites in Washington State where data on cougar movements and foraging were collected by WDFW prior to the return of wolves. The fieldwork will involve travel in large trucks with trailers, use of snowmobiles, extensive hiking, capturing of cougars with the assistance of hounds or via the use of cage traps, anesthetizing cougars for GPS collaring, and tree climbing. The doctoral student will also be responsible for training and supervising field technicians and volunteers.
Applicants must have a M.S. degree in wildlife science or a closely related discipline. Preference will be given to those who have experience 1) capturing, handling, and collaring cougars, or other large carnivores; 2) inspecting kill sites; 3) working with and analyzing large data sets; 4) analyzing GPS and kill site data; 5) using resource selection/utilization analysis tools; and 6) working in remote locations under sometimes challenging conditions. Given that this project is part of a larger multi-species effort, we will also prioritize applicants who are interested in both predator-predator and predator-prey interactions. A current valid (U.S.) motor vehicle license is required for this position, as is a driving record that will merit approval to operate State government vehicles.
Full financial support (stipend, tuition, and benefits) will be provided for 4 years. The student will be expected to secure teaching assistantships to cover the remainder of their tenure if it extends beyond this time frame.
To apply for this position please send a 1-page cover letter that outlines your experience undertaking large carnivore research and analyzing large datasets, as well as your long-term career goals. Please also include a CV (maximum of 2 pages) that includes 1) GPA and GRE scores; 2) publications, awards and grants; 3) work and research experience; and 4) current contacts for 3 professional or academic references.
Please submit your application as a single PDF document named with the following format: Lastname_Firstname.
Please note that the student must be willing to start the project by 09/28/2016 (the beginning of the autumn quarter at UW). Only those who have been shortlisted (up to five people) will be contacted. The shortlisted candidates may be required to conduct Skype and/or face-to-face interviews.
Review of applications will commence on 04/16/2016.
An ongoing issue in the United States is that endangered wolves are often mistaken as coyotes and illegally shot by hunters. Yesterday, with two other co-authors, I published a commentary article in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation highlighting this issue. See below for a copy of the abstract and link to the paper.
Abstract The recovery of wolf populations in the United States (U.S.) is hampered by ongoing human-wolf conflicts. In particular, the illegal killing of grey wolves (Canis lupus), red wolves (Canis rufus), and Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has contributed to relatively high mortality rates in some areas. One issue is that wolves are often mistaken as coyotes (Canis latrans) and illegally shot by hunters. To minimise cases of mistaken identity, stricter regulation of coyote hunting is being adopted in some areas where endangered wolves exist. Here we argue that such management should be adopted more widely, and especially in areas where wolves are at low densities or recolonising new areas. Such a proposal may face opposition, particularly where coyote hunting is common, or where coyotes are perceived as a threat to human enterprises such as livestock ranching. Appropriate education and training is needed to ensure that the public is aware that (i) wolves and coyotes are difficult to distinguish from a distance and (ii) coyotes are far too resilient to be affected by most periodic eradication programs, let alone from derbies or recreational hunting. We conclude that recreational hunting of coyotes could restrict wolf recolonisation while providing little benefit to animal agriculture. Consideration of new management strategies is therefore required to assist with wolf restoration efforts and to minimise ongoing human-wildlife conflicts.
Link to paper in Biodiversity and Conservation.
By the way, the canid in the figure is a coyote. Were you correct or was it a case of mistaken identity?
Press Release: Hunting by humans as big a threat as habitat change in ‘emptying the landscape’ of large herbivores
The decline or likely extinction of large herbivores such as rhinoceroses, hippos, zebras, camels and elephants threaten to create ‘empty landscapes’ in some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
“We are facing the prospect that in 20 years some of these large herbivores will have virtually disappeared from many of the world’s grasslands, savannah, deserts and forests, especially in India, Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Dr Thomas Newsome, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney.
Dr Newsome is a contributing author to the research findings published in Science Advances on 2 May.
An international team of wildlife ecologists led by Professor William Ripple, from Oregon State University, conducted an analysis of 74 of the world’s largest herbivores, defined as animals over 100 kilograms who consume vegetation to survive.
As a group, herbivores encompass about 4,000 known species and live in many types of ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.
The researchers looked at key threats, the likelihood of extinction and the ecological consequences of decline.
The twin threat for herbivores is habitat change and hunting by humans. Hunting is for meat consumption, with an estimated 1 billion humans relying on wild meat, and for the global trade in animal parts.
“Australia’s large herbivores including giant kangaroos and hippopotamus-sized marsupials went extinct about 40,000 years ago, soon after people colonised the continent,” said Dr Newsome.
“Overhunting by people, climate change and altered fire regimes are the most likely causes, and the loss of these large herbivores resulted in dramatic changes to Australia’s vegetation.”
“The widespread loss of herbivores alive today will have a similarly incalculable impact. It would include less food being available for large carnivores such as lions and tigers and more frequent and intense wildfires because herbivores won’t be controlling the vegetation through grazing.
“They also won’t be fulfilling their role of helping to disperse seed as they graze and travel which will lead to much less diversity in the landscape including loss of habitat for many smaller species.”
In 1992 researcher Kent Redford from the University of Florida coined the term ‘empty forest’ to discuss the decline of animals in tropical forests. The new term ‘empty landscape’ recognises that the threat of species loss extends well beyond that habitat.
The report notes that 25 of the largest wild herbivores now occupy an average of only 19 percent of their historical ranges. Competition from livestock production, which has tripled globally since 1980, has reduced access to land, forage and water and raised the risk of the spread of disease.
The researchers call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries and the essential involvement of local people in managing protected areas.
The paper is open access and can be viewed HERE
Source: The University of Sydney
CORVALLIS, Ore. – The decline of the world’s large herbivores, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, is raising the specter of an “empty landscape” in some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Many populations of animals such as rhinoceroses, zebras, camels, elephants and tapirs are diminishing or threatened with extinction in grasslands, savannahs, deserts and forests, scientists say.
An international team of wildlife ecologists led by William Ripple, Oregon State University distinguished professor in the College of Forestry, conducted a comprehensive analysis of data on the world’s largest herbivores (over 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, on average), including endangerment status, key threats and ecological consequences of decline. They published their observations today in the journal Science Advances.
The authors focused on 74 large herbivore species — animals that subsist on vegetation — and conclude that “without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”
Ripple initiated the study after conducting a global analysis of large-carnivore decline, which goes hand-in-hand, he said, with the loss of their prey. “I expected that habitat change would be the main factor causing the endangerment of large herbivores,” he said. “But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”
The scientists refer to an analysis of the decline of animals in tropical forests published in the journal BioScience in 1992. The author, Kent H. Redford, then a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, first used the term “empty forest.” While soaring trees and other vegetation may exist, he wrote, the loss of forest fauna posed a long-term threat to those ecosystems.
Ripple and his colleagues went a step further. “Our analysis shows that it goes well beyond forest landscapes,” he said, “to savannahs and grasslands and deserts. So we coin a new term, the empty landscape.” As a group, herbivores encompass about 4,000 known species and live in many types of ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.
The highest numbers of threatened large herbivores live in developing countries, especially Southeast Asia, India and Africa, the scientists report. Only one endangered large herbivore lives in Europe (the European bison), and none are in North America, which, the authors add, have “already lost most of its large mammals” through prehistoric hunting and habitat changes.
The authors note that 25 of the largest wild herbivores now occupy an average of only 19 percent of their historical ranges. Competition from livestock production, which has tripled globally since 1980, has reduced herbivore access to land, forage and water and raised disease transmission risks, they add.
Meanwhile, herbivore hunting occurs for two major purposes, the authors note: meat consumption and the global trade in animal parts. An estimated 1 billion humans subsist on wild meat, they write. “The market for medicinal uses can be very strong for some body parts, such as rhino horn,” said Ripple. “Horn sells for more by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine.” Africa’s western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011.
“The causes of the decline of some large herbivores are difficult to remedy in a world with increasing human populations and consumption,” said co-author Taal Levi, assistant professor in Oregon State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “But it’s inconceivable that we allow demand for horns and tusks to drive the extirpation of large herbivores from otherwise suitable habitat. We need to intensify the reduction of demand for such items.”
The loss of large herbivores suggests that other parts of wild ecosystems will diminish, the authors write. The likely consequences include: reduction in food for large carnivores such as lions and tigers; diminished seed dispersal for plants; more frequent and intense wildfires; slower cycling of nutrients from vegetation to the soil; reductions in habitat for smaller animals including fish, birds and amphibians.
“We hope this report increases appreciation for the importance of large herbivores in these ecosystems,” said Ripple. “And we hope that policymakers take action to conserve these species.”
To understand the consequences of large herbivore decline, the authors call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries. In addition, solutions to the decline of large herbivores need to involve local people. “It is essential that local people be involved in and benefit from the management of protected areas,” they write. “Local community participation in the management of protected areas is highly correlated with protected area policy compliance.”
In addition to Ripple and Levi, co-authors include Christopher Wolf and Luke Painter of Oregon State; Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University; Thomas M. Newsome of The University of Sydney in Australia; Kristoffer T. Everatt and Graham I.H. Kerley of Nelson Mandela University in South Africa; Mauro Galetti of the Universisade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Matt W. Hayward of Nelson Mandela University and Bangor University in the United Kingdom; Peter A. Lindsey of Panthera (nonprofit organization) and the University of Pretoria in South Africa; David W. MacDonald, Yavinder Malhi and Christopher J. Sandom of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; John Terborgh of Duke University; Blaire Van Valkenburgh of UCLA.
The paper is open access and can be viewed HERE
Source: Oregon State University