Climate shapes community trophic structures and humans simplify them

  • Nature Communications (2019)
  • Authors: Manuel Mendoza & Miguel Araújo
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Nature’s complexity is intriguing, but the circumstances determining whether or how order emerges from such complexity remains a matter of extensive research. Using the geographical distributions and food preferences of all terrestrial mammal species with masses >3 kg, we show that large mammals group into feeding guilds (species exploiting similar resources) and that these guilds form trophic structures that vary across biomes globally. We identify five trophic structures closely matching climate variability and named them boreal, temperate, semiarid, seasonal tropical and humid tropical owing to their relative overlap with the distribution of biomes. We also find that human activities simplify trophic structures, generally transitioning them to species-poorer states. Detected transitions include boreal and temperate structures becoming depauperate or seasonal- and humid-tropical becoming semiarid. Whether the observed generalities among trophic structures of large mammals are indicative of patterns across whole food webs is matter for further investigation. The results help refine projections of the effects of environmental change on the trophic structure of large mammals.