Co-declines in large mammals and dung beetles: an impending ecological cascade

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:E. Nichols, Gardner, T. A., Peres, C. A., Spector, S.
Keywords:co-decline, conservation, decline, extinction, mammal, resource

Biodiversity loss can precipitate extinction cascades and impair ecological processes. These ‘downstream’ effects will be exacerbated if functionally important taxa are tightly linked with species threatened by extinction or population decline. We review the current evidence that such a scenario is currently playing out in the linked declines of persistently hunted
mammal populations and the dung beetles communities (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) that depend on them for adult and larval food resources. Through a close evolutionary association, mammal assemblages have played a fundamental role in structuring extant dung beetle communities. Today many game mammal species’ populations are severely depleted by subsistence or commercial hunting, especially in tropical forest systems. Multiple lines of evidence from temperate and tropical systems indicate that the regional-scale decline or extirpation of medium and large bodied mammal faunas can severely disrupt the diversity and abundance of dung beetle communities through alterations in the composition and availability of dung resources. These observed community disassemblies have significant short- and long-term implications for the maintenance of key ecosystem processes including nutrient recycling and secondary seed dispersal. Identifying the species- and community-level traits that buffer or exacerbate these species and functional responses is essential if we are to develop a better understanding of the cascading ecological consequences of hunting in tropical forests.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith