Advances in remote sensing technologies are helping scientists to better measure how global landscapes — from forests to savanna — are able to store carbon, a critical insight as they evaluate the potential role of ecosystems in mitigating climate change.
One factor often ignored in these carbon cycle assessments, however, is the role of wild animals. Compared with the vast capacity for trees and plants to store carbon, the conventional wisdom goes, low-abundant animal populations simply can’t
have much effect on these global systems.
In a new paper published in Science
, a team of researchers led by Yale’s Oswald J. Schmitz
makes the case that the very presence of wild animals can trigger direct or indirect feedback effects that alter a landscape’s capacity to absorb, release, or transport carbon. In reviewing a growing body of research, they find that animals can increase or decrease rates of biogeochemical processes by 15 to 250 percent or more.