Megafauna in the Earth system

Felisa A. Smith, Christopher E. Doughty, Yadvinder Malhi, Jens Christian Svenning, John Terborgh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Understanding the complex role of large-bodied mammals in contemporary ecosystems and the likely consequences of their continued decline is essential for effective management of the remaining wild areas on Earth. The very largest animals are in particular peril owing to a disastrous combination of continued hunting or poaching, habitat alterations, and loss of habitat. Because these threats are ongoing, conservation biologists may not be able to wait for the results of long-term studies before proposing potential mitigation strategies. A recent conference on 'Megafauna and ecosystem function: from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene' at Oxford Univ. brought together paleontologists, conservation and environmental scientists and others who share an interest in characterizing the influence of large animals on ecosystems. Integrating historical perspectives of Late Pleistocene ecosystems when large-bodied animals were still widespread, with modern studies of areas with varying levels of intact megafauna, the aim was to develop a more holistic understanding of the consequences of the ongoing decline of large-bodied animals around the Earth. The conference resulted in the development of two special features - one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA and one in Ecography synthesizing the state of our knowledge about the environmental legacies of the terminal Pleistocene megafauna extinction, the complex role of modern large-bodied animals and what the ongoing loss of their ecological interactions might mean in terms of ecosystem function. Here, we briefly review the main themes developed during the conference and outline promising future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-108
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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