The loss of large predators and herbivores has led to a staggering ecological shift and, in some cases, even contributed to climate change, according to a new research released by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
According to the study, reductions in the populations of large animals have had detrimental effects on marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems around the world.
For example, whales sequester carbon in the ocean through the deposition of feces. Industrial whaling has caused whale populations to plummet over the last 100 years, causing an additional 105 million tons of carbon to be released into the atmosphere, the research concludes.
In this instance, a population decline has contributed to climate change. But the inevitable chicken-and-egg quandary emerges: Are the changes to the ecosystem leading to climate change, or is climate change resulting in ecological shifts?
Perhaps a combination of both, depending on the individual animal population and ecosystem. Even this study admits that, in addition to the loss of large predators and herbivores, a variety of factors – including land-use practices, habitat loss, pollution and climate change – have altered ecosystems worldwide.
Catch 22 aside, this research sends a clear message: Earth’s delicate balance is easily disrupted, and conservation is key to its survival.