delware environmental institute

NSF Highlight: Loss of large predators caused widespread disruption of ecosystems

NSF Highlight: Loss of large predators caused widespread disruption of ecosystems

The decline of large predators and other "apex consumers" at the top of the food chain has disrupted ecosystems across the planet. The finding is reported by an international team of scientists in a paper in last week's issue of the journal Science. The study looked at research results from a wide range of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems and concluded "the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind's most pervasive influence on the natural world."

According to lead author James Estes, a marine ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, large animals were once ubiquitous across the globe. They shaped the structure and dynamics of ecosystems.

Their decline, largely caused by humans through hunting and habitat fragmentation, has far-reaching and often surprising consequences, including changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality and nutrient cycles.