Cascading impacts of large-carnivore extirpation in an African ecosystem

Justine L. Atkins, Ryan A. Long, Johan Pansu, Joshua H. Daskin, Arjun B. Potter, Marc E. Stalmans, Corina E. Tarnita, Robert Mitchell Pringle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Populations of the world's largest carnivores are declining and now occupy mere fractions of their historical ranges. Theory predicts that when apex predators disappear, large herbivores become less fearful, occupy new habitats, and modify those habitats by eating new food plants. Yet experimental support for this prediction has been difficult to obtain in large-mammal systems. After the extirpation of leopards and African wild dogs from Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, forest-dwelling antelopes [bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus)] expanded into treeless floodplains, where they consumed novel diets and suppressed a common food plant [waterwort (Bergia mossambicensis)]. By experimentally simulating predation risk, we demonstrate that this behavior was reversible. Thus, whereas anthropogenic predator extinction disrupted a trophic cascade by enabling rapid differentiation of prey behavior, carnivore restoration may just as rapidly reestablish that cascade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-177
Number of pages5
JournalScience
Volume364
Issue number6436
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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    Atkins, J. L., Long, R. A., Pansu, J., Daskin, J. H., Potter, A. B., Stalmans, M. E., Tarnita, C. E., & Pringle, R. M. (2019). Cascading impacts of large-carnivore extirpation in an African ecosystem. Science, 364(6436), 173-177. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3561