The consequences of replacing wildlife with livestock in Africa

Hempson, G.P.
Archibald, S.
Bond, W.J.
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Scientific Reports
The extirpation of native wildlife species and widespread establishment of livestock farming has dramatically distorted large mammal herbivore communities across the globe. Ecological theory suggests that these shifts in the form and the intensity of herbivory have had substantial impacts on a range of ecosystem processes, but for most ecosystems it is impossible to quantify these changes accurately. We address these challenges using species-level biomass data from sub-Saharan Africa for both present day and reconstructed historical herbivore communities. Our analyses reveal pronounced herbivore biomass losses in wetter areas and substantial biomass increases and functional type turnover in arid regions. Fire prevalence is likely to have been altered over vast areas where grazer biomass has transitioned to above or below the threshold at which grass fuel reduction can suppress fire. Overall, shifts in the functional composition of herbivore communities promote an expansion of woody cover. Total herbivore methane emissions have more than doubled, but lateral nutrient diffusion capacity is below 5% of past levels. The release of fundamental ecological constraints on herbivore communities in arid regions appears to pose greater threats to ecosystem function than do biomass losses in mesic regions, where fire remains the major consumer.
Africa, animal, biomass, chemistry, diffusion, environmental protection, greenhouse gas, herbivory, life stock, metabolism, wild animal
Hempson, G.P., Archibald, S. and Bond, W.J., 2017. The consequences of replacing wildlife with livestock in Africa. Scientific reports, 7(1), Article number 17196.