Predator control of ecosystem nutrient dynamics


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Predators are predominantly valued for their ability to control prey, as indicators of high levels of biodiversity and as tourism attractions. This view, however, is incomplete because it does not acknowledge that predators may play a significant role in the delivery of critical life-support services such as ecosystem nutrient cycling. New research is beginning to show that predator effects on nutrient cycling are ubiquitous. These effects emerge from direct nutrient excretion, egestion or translocation within and across ecosystem boundaries after prey consumption, and from indirect effects mediated by predator interactions with prey. Depending on their behavioural ecology, predators can create heterogeneous or homogeneous nutrient distributions across natural landscapes. Because predator species are disproportionately vulnerable to elimination from ecosystems, we stand to lose much more from their disappearance than their simple charismatic attractiveness.