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New study shows predators affect the carbon cycle
Date:6/23/2013

.4 times more than when just grasshoppers were present and by 1.2 more times than when no animals were present. It was also revealed that the pattern of carbon storage in the plants changed when both herbivores and carnivores were present. The grasshoppers apparently were afraid of being eaten by the spiders and consumed less plant matter when the predators were around. The grasshoppers also shifted towards eating more herbs instead of grass under fearful scenarios.

At the same time, the grasses stored more carbon in their roots in a response to being disturbed at low levels when both herbivores and carnivores were present. In cases where only herbivores were present, the plants stored less carbon overall, likely due to the more intense eating habits of the herbivores that put pressure on plants to reduce their storage and breathe out carbon more. These stress impacts, then, caused both the plants and the herbivores to change their behaviors and change the composition of their local environment.

This has significance for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. Although the study was carried out on a small scale, it could inform practices done in much larger areas. Places such as the Alaskan wilderness, for example, are home to animals that have the same predator-and-prey dynamics that drive the carbon cycle, and so protecting lands and storing carbon could be linked at the same time. Appreciating the role of predators is also important currently, given that top predators are declining at rates faster than that of many other species in global trends of biodiversity loss.

"It's going to force some thinking about the vital roles of animals in regulating carbon," concludes Dr. Schmitz, pointing to the fact that the UN's body of scientific experts who study climate change don't consider these multiplier effects in their models. "People are arguing for a paradigm change."


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Contact: Oswald Schmitz
oswald.schmitz@yale.edu
203-432-5110
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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