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From regional to global patterns in vertebrate scavenger communities subsidized by big game hunting

AuthorsMateo-Tomás, Patricia ; Olea, Pedro P.; Moleón, Marcos; Vicente, Joaquín ; Viñuela, Javier
KeywordsAnthropogenic food subsidies
Food webs
Apex predators
Issue Date2015
CitationDiversity and Distributions 21(8): 913-924 (2015)
Abstract[Aim]: Anthropogenic food subsidies are increasingly present in ecosystems, but their impacts remain poorly understood. Big game hunting is a growing activity that annually subsidizes ecosystems with tonnes of carrion world-wide. By feeding on carrion, scavengers support key ecosystem functions and services, becoming key vectors to transfer the impacts of human-mediated food subsidies across ecosystems. We characterize and compare the structure of vertebrate communities feeding on these subsidies, namely big game hunting remains, at a global scale. [Location]: Global. [Methods]: We collected data from a countrywide field study in Spain and broadened it up to nine regions in four continents by reviewing scientific literature. We analysed the structure of the scavenger communities considering species composition, richness and scavenging frequency. [Results]: Seventy-nine vertebrate species, 19% globally threatened, scavenged food subsidies from big game hunting world-wide. Scavenger richness (2.0-11.0% of vertebrates/region) positively correlated with total vertebrate richness. Although scavenger communities at hunting remains varied among regions, we describe a general structural pattern. Birds and mammals dominate consumption, with birds scavenging twice more frequently than mammals - but more mammal species scavenge compared to birds. Generalists dominate scavenging globally, especially where the presence of obligate scavengers (vultures) and apex predators (e.g. wolves, hyenas, eagles) is low. [Main conclusions]: Anthropogenic food from hunting subsidizes many vertebrate species from different trophic levels and conservation status and thus is expected to affect from populations to ecosystems. Obligate scavengers and apex predators seem to play a key role structuring the scavenger community through top-down mechanisms. The general structure of scavenger communities we describe here provides a benchmark for comparisons of subsidized and non-subsidized communities. More data on the spatio-temporal availability of anthropogenic food subsidies and their consumption by scavengers world-wide are needed to efficiently preserve biodiversity, and the associated ecological functions and services, in increasingly subsidized ecosystems.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1111/ddi.12330
e-issn: 1472-4642
issn: 1366-9516
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