Persistence of large mammal fauna as indicators of global human impact

Morrison, J. C., W. Sechrest, E. Dinerstein, D. S. Wilcove, and J. F. Lamoreux

Large mammals often play critical roles within ecosystems by affecting either prey populations or the structure and species composition of surrounding vegetation. However, large mammals are highly vulnerable to extirpation by humans and consequently, severe contractions of species ranges result in intact large mammal faunas becoming increasingly rare. We compared historical (AD 1500) range maps of large mammals with their current distributions to determine which areas today retain complete assemblages of large mammals. We estimate that less than 21% of the earth’s terrestrial surface still contains all of the large (>20 kg) mammals it once held, with the proportion varying between 68% in Australasia to only 1% in Indomalaya. Although the presence of large mammals offers no guarantee of the presence of all smaller animals, their absence represents an ecologically based measurement of human impacts on biodiversity. Given the ecological importance of large mammals and their vulnerability to extinction, better protection and extension of sites containing complete assemblages of large mammals is urgently needed.

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Morrison, J. C., W. Sechrest, E. Dinerstein, D. S. Wilcove, and J. F. Lamoreux. 2007. Persistence of large mammal fauna as indicators of global human impact. Journal of Mamalogy 88:1363-1380.