Wild meat (or 'bushmeat') hunting is nearly ubiquitous across the tropics and is very often unsustainable-driving declines and extirpation of numerous mammal populations. Loss of these animals can alter the transport of nutrients within and between ecosystems. But whether the physical removal of vertebrate carcasses and the nutrients that they store can reduce overall nutrient availability in ecosystems has been little explored. At 32 sites on three continents, we show that annual phosphorus (P) loss via mammal exploitation was low relative to the rate of atmospheric P deposition. But at four sites in Africa and Southeast Asia, removal of P in the skeletons of hunted mammals exceeded the atmospheric input of this nutrient by 10-fold or more. Because P is the growth-limiting nutrient for many tropical terrestrial ecosystems and certain large mammals, the imbalance created by the removal of mammal biomass under very high hunting scenarios could reduce ecosystem carrying capacity if no compensatory P additions occur in the system. This biogeochemical perspective on bushmeat exploitation raises further concerns about harvest sustainability and human food security in areas where hunting rates are high and ecosystem P inputs low.
|Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
|Published - Jul 24 2019
- Nutrient cycles