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The river masters

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Science  14 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6211, pp. 802-805
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6211.802

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Summary

Researchers once shunned hippos in the wild, deeming the scientific payoff too small for the mortal risk of getting up close with the dangerous beasts. Ornery and territorial, these aquatic herbivores are considered by many to be Africa's deadliest animal, reputedly killing more people than elephants or lions. But the extraordinary story of hippo excrement is changing minds. For sub-Saharan Africa, hippo dung transfers energy from land, where the animals graze, to Africa's turbid rivers, fueling growth of the microbes at the base of the food web. Studies have shown that hippos transport so much carbon and other nutrients in their daily 8 kilograms of excrement that they can support—or poison—an entire aquatic ecosystem.

  • * at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya