Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores

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Science  10 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6167, 1241484
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241484

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Preserving Predators

Large-bodied animals play essential roles in ecosystem structuring and stability through both indirect and direct trophic effects. In recent times, humans have disrupted this trophic structure through both habitat destruction and active extirpation of large predators, resulting in large declines in numbers and vast contractions in their geographic ranges. Ripple et al. (10.1126/science.1241484; see the Perspective by Roberts) review the status, threats, and ecological importance of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores globally. These species are responsible for a suite of direct and indirect stabilizing effects in ecosystems. Current levels of decline are likely to result in ecologically ineffective population densities and can lead to ecosystem instability. The preservation of large carnivores can be challenging because of their need for large ranges and their potential for human conflict. However, the authors demonstrate that the preservation of large carnivores is ecologically important and that the need for conservation action is immediate, given the severity of the threats they face.