Who misses the mega-fauna, if they disappear?

Guest post & graphics by Nitin Sekar, Princeton University

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A seedling germinates from elephant dung.

All around the planet, the world’s largest animal species are becoming very rare. Whether we speak of giant tortoises, large wild cows like gaur, rhinoceroses, hippos, tigers, or whales, local extinction or extreme reductions in range size and population are the norm for species that are too big or too slow-reproducing to withstand human conflict or the human hunter. Most people would probably agree that it is a shame to lose these species. But what about functionally? Are the largest animals critical to any ecological processes? When there are declines in honey bee populations, human agriculture suffers; if nitrogen fixing plants are absent from a forest, other plant species may be affected. When the largest animal species go missing, do any other species miss them? Aside from a few cases, we don’t know! This is an active area of research.

We decided to explore the role of Asia’s largest land mammal—the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)—in seed dispersal, which helps maintain the diversity of tropical forests. Continue reading

Elephants, engineers of the forest

October 2012

Who dunnit?  Which animals are responsible for planting seeds throughout the forest?

Who dunnit? Which animals are responsible for planting seeds throughout the forest?

My next stop is the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, where I meet my colleague and friend Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz.  A Spanish transplant in Malaysia, Ahimsa has spent the past year with great gusto setting up MEME (Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants).  I recognize the energy, it’s the same enthusiasm shared by Benoit and George, my current supervisor. What all these people have in common is a firm belief in what they do, a single-minded determination that appears never to falter. Truly something to behold. Continue reading