Defaunation and trophic cascading in the Anthropocene: ecological erosion in the tropics

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Online seminar followed by Q&A – all welcome. NB – all times given in UK time.

Tropical forests are increasingly degraded by industrial logging, urbanization, agriculture and infrastructure, with only 20% of the remaining area considered intact. However, this figure does not include other, more cryptic but pervasive forms of degradation, such as overhunting. In this seminar, Ana will discuss how to quantify and map the spatial patterns of mammal defaunation in the tropics using empirical data on mammal abundance declines from local hunting studies. She will also argue how, according to our projections, half of (seemingly) intact tropical forests are partially devoid of large mammals, and how forest coverage alone is not necessarily indicative of ecosystem intactness. Further, she will show how the combination of satellite-based land-cover change maps, habitat suitability and hunting pressure models can be applied to quantify the individual and combined effects of habitat loss and hunting pressure on tropical mammal populations. Ana will finish the seminar discussing how changes in the abundance of mutualists (seed dispersers) and antagonists (seed predators and herbivores) may impair ecosystem functioning in tropical forests by altering the structure and composition of tropical forests and, eventually, their carbon storage capacity.

ANA BENÍTEZ-LÓPEZ is a postdoctoral researcher with broad interests in macroecology, biodiversity conservation and global change biology. Her research focuses on the factors that determine species distributions and abundance, and how these may be disrupted by anthropogenic drivers. She employs meta-analytical approaches and predictive models to study the effect of global change drivers on species distribution and abundance patterns across large scales. Currently she holds a Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación postdoctoral grant (2019-2021) at Jordano’s lab (Integrative Ecology Group) at the Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC). Here her main project aims at quantifying the ecological consequences of defaunation in the ecosystem functioning of tropical forests.