The dwindling of the world's lions, wolves, sharks and other large animals isn't just sad, it's having far-reaching effects on ecosystems
Wolves, whales, sea otters, lions, sharks, bears and more: perched atop the food chain, these animals intrigue and inspire us, and sometimes scare us.
Now new research highlights a bigger role for these animals as crucial managers of ecosystems. Large top predators (and some top plant-eaters) keep systems in balance in ways that control human disease, wildfires, carbon emissions and more, while benefiting agriculture, water resources, and forestry, among others. We deplete them at our peril.
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"I think it's in many ways the most important paper in conservation that's been published in a decade or so," said Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, who was not a part of the study. "Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that all species aren't created equal and some are much, much more important than others."
"That should change how we invest our money, how we manage, what we do. Instead of blindly protecting all species we could go after those really important ones," he said.
"What this article highlights are some new discoveries that the loss of predators or the loss of large herbivores can lead to wholesale transformation of ecosystems and the way they function," said Oswald Schmitz of Yale University, who was also not a part of the new study, published today in the journal Science. "That's a paradigm-changing way to look at things."