Published: Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores

Authors: William J Ripple, James A Estes, Robert L Beschta, Christopher C Wilmers, Euan G Ritchie, Mark Hebblewhite, Joel Berger, Bodil Elmhagen, Mike Letnic, Michael P Nelson, Oswald J Schmitz, Douglas W Smith, Arian D Wallach and Aaron J Wirsing

Abstract

Large carnivores face serious threats and are experiencing massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges around the world.

We highlight how these threats have affected the conservation status and ecological functioning of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores on Earth.

Consistent with theory, empirical studies increasingly show that large carnivores have substantial effects on the structure and function of diverse ecosystems.

Significant cascading trophic interactions, mediated by their prey or sympatric mesopredators, arise when some of these carnivores are extirpated from or repatriated to ecosystems.

Unexpected effects of trophic cascades on various taxa and processes include changes to bird, mammal, invertebrate, and herpetofauna abundance or richness; subsidies to scavengers; altered disease dynamics; carbon sequestration; modified stream morphology; and crop damage.

Promoting tolerance and coexistence with large carnivores is a crucial societal challenge that will ultimately determine the fate of Earth’s largest carnivores and all that depends upon them, including humans.

Ripple WJ, Estes JA, Beschta RL, Wilmers CC, Ritchie EG, Hebblewhite M, Berger J, Elmhagen B, Letnic M, Nelson MP, Schmitz OJ, Smith DW, Wallach AD, Wirsing AJ (2014) Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores, Science, 343(6167) DOI