The role of large wild animals in climate change mitigation and adaptation

Yadvinder Malhi*, Tonya Lander, Elizabeth le Roux, Nicola Stevens, Marc Macias-Fauria, Lisa Wedding, Cécile Girardin, Jeppe Ågård Kristensen, Christopher J. Sandom, Tom D. Evans, Jens Christian Svenning, Susan Canney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperReviewResearchpeer-review


Two major environmental challenges of our time are responding to climate change and reversing biodiversity decline. Interventions that simultaneously tackle both challenges are highly desirable. To date, most studies aiming to find synergistic interventions for these two challenges have focused on protecting or restoring vegetation and soils but overlooked how conservation or restoration of large wild animals might influence the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of ecosystems. However, interactions between large animal conservation and climate change goals may not always be positive. Here, we review wildlife conservation and climate change mitigation in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. We elucidate general principles about the biome types where, and mechanisms by which, positive synergies and negative trade-offs between wildlife conservation and climate change mitigation are likely. We find that large animals have the greatest potential to facilitate climate change mitigation at a global scale via three mechanisms: changes in fire regime, especially in previously low-flammability biomes with a new or intensifying fire regime, such as mesic grasslands or warm temperate woodlands; changes in terrestrial albedo, particularly where there is potential to shift from closed canopy to open canopy systems at higher latitudes; and increases in vegetation and soil carbon stocks, especially through a shift towards below-ground carbon pools in temperate, tropical and sub-tropical grassland ecosystems. Large animals also contribute to ecosystem adaptation to climate change by promoting complexity of trophic webs, increasing habitat heterogeneity, enhancing plant dispersal, increasing resistance to abrupt ecosystem change and through microclimate modification.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Biology
Pages (from-to)R181-R196
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


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