One million years ago, the extinction of large-bodied plant-eaters changed the trajectory of life on Earth. The disappearance of these large herbivores reshaped plant life, altered fire regimes across Earth’s landscapes, and modified biogeochemical cycling in such a way that Earth’s climate became slightly colder. A new study by Utah State University Assistant Professor of Watershed Sciences, Trisha Atwood, suggests that modern-day megaherbivores (plant-eaters weighing more than 1,000 kg) could soon suffer the same fate as their ancient ancestors, with unknown consequences for Earth and all of its inhabitants.
Armed with a dataset of the diets of over 24,500 mammals, birds and reptiles, Atwood and her team set out to answer the question “Are plant-eaters, meat-eaters, or animals who eat both plants and meat, at the greatest risk of extinction?” Their findings, published in the journal Science Advances, would challenge a two-decade-long perception that meat-eating predators were the most likely group to meet the ire of Earth’s six mass extinction.
The results indicate that with over a quarter of the world’s modern-day herbivores threatened with extinction, plant eaters have the highest representation of at-risk species in the present day. MORE
Header image: Trisha Atwood.