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Introduced herbivores restore Late Pleistocene ecological functions

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  • Erick Lundgren, University of Technology Sydney, USA
  • Daniel Ramp, University of Technology Sydney, Australien
  • John Rowan, University of Massachusetts
  • ,
  • Owen Middleton, University of Sussex
  • ,
  • Simon D. Schowanek
  • ,
  • Oscar Sanisidro, University of Kansas, University of Alcalá, Spanien
  • Scott P. Carroll, Institute for Contemporary Evolution, Davis, CA, University of California, USA
  • Matt Davis, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
  • ,
  • Christopher J. Sandom, University of Sussex
  • ,
  • J.-C. Svenning
  • Arian D. Wallach, University of Technology Sydney
Large-bodied mammalian herbivores dominated Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems for several million years before undergoing substantial extinctions and declines during the Late Pleistocene (LP) due to prehistoric human impacts. The decline of large herbivores led to widespread ecological changes due to the loss of their ecological functions, as driven by their unique combinations of traits. However, recently, humans have significantly increased herbivore species richness through introductions in many parts of the world, potentially counteracting LP losses. Here, we assessed the extent to which introduced herbivore species restore lost—or contribute novel—functions relative to preextinction LP assemblages. We constructed multidimensional trait spaces using a trait database for all extant and extinct mammalian herbivores ≥10 kg known from the earliest LP (∼130,000 ybp) to the present day. Extinction-driven contractions of LP trait space have been offset through introductions by ∼39% globally. Analysis of trait space overlap reveals that assemblages with introduced species are overall more similar to those of the LP than native-only assemblages. This is because 64% of introduced species are more similar to extinct rather than extant species within their respective continents. Many introduced herbivores restore trait combinations that have the capacity to influence ecosystem processes, such as wildfire and shrub expansion in drylands. Although introduced species have long been a source of contention, our findings indicate that they may, in part, restore ecological functions reflective of the past several million years before widespread human-driven extinctions.
TidsskriftPNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America)
Sider (fra-til)7871-7878
Antal sider8
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2020

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