How animals shape habitats, ecosystems and the global biosphere
ZSL Stamford Raffles Lecture 2017, by Professor Yadvinder Malhi, University of Oxford
Ecologists have long been aware that animals are not mere passive recipients of the nutritious bounty that plants provide them, that they can shape the ecosystems around them through food webs and by altering the nature of the habitat around them. However, until recently such thinking has rarely been scaled up to our understanding of how the function of whole ecosystems and biomes are shaped by animals. Our models of the global biosphere still entirely ignore animals.
In this lecture Yadvinder Malhi explored a variety of ways in which animals can influence ecosystem structure, biomass, fire regimes and even climate, drawing on evidence from the Pleistocene to modern times, looking at scales from termites to mammoths, and drawing on ongoing experiments and “rewilding” projects around the world. An appreciation of animal influence on ecosystem function leads to awareness of how many even apparently low disturbance ecosystems may carry the legacy of past extinctions. In a world of increasing human pressure and shifting climates, animals can have an important role in maintaining resilient ecosystems.
Yadvinder Malhi is Professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests. His work focuses on understanding the ecosystem ecology of tropical ecosystems, and how human activity has changed and will change these ecosystems. His research employs a range of tools from intensive field studies through to satellite monitoring and ecosystem modelling. Much of his work has focussed on Amazonia, but more recently his research has also spread to the forests of Africa and Asia, and he has designed and leads the GEM (Global Ecosystems Monitoring) network of intensive forest monitoring sites across the tropics. Some of his recent work has explored how animals affect the functioning and nutrient cycling of tropical ecosystems. More generally, he is interested in understanding how we can maximise the resilience and viability of tropical ecosystems. He is President-Elect of the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation.
The Stamford Raffles Lecture is ZSL's premier event in its annual programme of Science and Conservation Events. Established in 1995, the lectures have been given by eminent speakers on a wide range of zoological topics.