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Image by Jordan Heinrichs

Our world is losing its megafauna at an unprecedented rate. While we know large mammals are ecosystem engineers in life, we still know very little about how they drive ecosystem processes in death. 

Our Research

Integrating animals into ecosystem ecology has yielded fundamental insights into the drivers of ecosystem processes. For example, animal aggregations form biogeochemical hotspots that create dynamic landscapes of nutrient cycling, primary production, and species diversity. However, it is not only live animals that are important for ecosystem function. Mass mortalities of animals such as cicadas, salmon, and wildebeest also create nutrient pulses with lasting legacies on ecosystems.

 

Yet, we know surprisingly little about how individual carcasses, especially of megafauna, shape spatiotemporal heterogeneity in ecosystem processes. Only in marine ecosystems do we understand this phenomenon where whale megacarcasses deposit huge pulses of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to the nutrient-poor deep-sea, creating oases of production and biodiversity that persist for decades. In terrestrial ecosystems, we know virtually nothing about how nutrient pulses from megacarcasses, such as African elephants, affect ecosystems over time. Thus, our overarching research question is: How do megacarcasses influence terrestrial ecosystem processes?

Image by Richard Jacobs