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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: November 2009

16 - Themes and future directions in herbivore‐ecosystem interactions and conservation


Some 50 years ago, Nature made the following observation on the issue of management of large game animals, mainly herbivores, in Africa: ‘The presence of enormous herds of game animals is quite incompatible with the economic exploitation of the country…the game must go and there can be no hope of its survival outside the National Parks…As yet, however, there is practically no information available on the biology of these mammals, information that is essential for successfully managing such parks and reserves.’ (reprinted in Nature, 431, 638, 7 October 2004). Twenty‐five years later, the first comprehensive analysis on the interaction of large herbivorous mammals and ecosystems was published (Sinclair & Norton‐Griffiths 1979). This seminal volume summarized over a decade of research by Sinclair, Norton‐Griffiths, Bell, McNaughton and their colleagues on the ecology of large mammals in the Serengeti, initiated partly in response to the situation developing in Africa that prompted Nature to make the earlier observation.

As the papers in the present volume show, current research on how large mammalian herbivores affect ecosystem properties and on the problems of their conservation extends far beyond Africa to every biome and on every continent except Antarctica. In the past 25 years since the publication of the Serengeti volume, new effects of herbivores, and new mechanisms of response of plants and ecosystems have been discovered. New mathematical theories of functional responses and herbivore‐ecosystem interactions have also been developed. The study of large mammal‐ecosystem interactions has come a long way in the past 50 years.

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Bryant, J., Chapin, F. S. III & Klein, D. (1983). Carbon/nutrient balance of boreal plants in relation to vertebrate herbivory. Oikos, 40, 357–68.
Hamilton, J.Zangerl, A., DeLucia, E. & Berenbaum, M. (2001). The carbon‐nutrient balance hypothesis: its rise and fall. Ecology Letters, 4, 86–95.
Lerdau, M. & Coley, P. D. (2002). Benefits of the carbon‐nutrient balance hypothesis. Oikos, 98, 534–6.
McNaughton, S. J. (1983). Compensatory plant growth as a response to herbivory. Oikos, 40, 329–36.
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