The ‘mega fauna’It has fascinated humans since our origins, when large animals that fed us, competed with us, or hunted us were depicted on cave walls. Today, we also know that the mega fauna it fulfills key and irreplaceable functions in ecosystems. But what exactly do we mean by the term ‘mega fauna’?
An international team of researchers, led by the University of Granada (UGR), has revealed that the word ‘mega faunaIt can be conceived in very different ways, even within the scientific community itself. As intuitive as the term may seem at first glance, scientific definitions can vary greatly, from the smallest animals identifiable in a single photograph to the largest vertebrates that have ever existed. This circumstance is compounded by the fact that most scientific authors do not even define the term before using it.
As explained Marcos Moleón Paiz, main author of this work and researcher of the Department of Zoology of the UGR, “For a biologist who studies the seabed, for example,‘mega fauna‘It can be a crab or a sea slug; for a soil specialist, ‘mega fauna‘It could be an earthworm; for a paleontologist, ‘mega fauna’Refers to vertebrates of a weight greater than or approximately equal to that of a human; and for some terrestrial ecologists, only the ‘megaherbivores’, That is, herbivores of more than one ton, should be classified as‘mega fauna’. This indicates that the term has been used and has evolved within each discipline, with little understanding between the multiple disciplines related to ‘mega fauna’”.
This work, the result of the joint and synergistic effort of researchers who study ‘megafauna’ from very different fields in universities and research centers on all continents, was published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, where the cover of the month of March has been dedicated to him.
“Until now,” Moleón says, “most of the definitions used by scientists were arbitrary definitions that worked relatively well within the same discipline, but could hardly be applied to other disciplines.”
In this work, the authors suggest that size alone is insufficient to adequately describe the ‘mega fauna‘And propose several definitions that also take into account the ecological function and ecological characteristics of the species.
This work reveals that the concept of ‘mega fauna’Is complex. The authors hope that the proposed new definitions will stimulate future empirical studies that will test them and determine to what extent a universal definition is possible.
To carry out this work, the researchers have carried out an intensive bibliographic search and have supplemented it with surveys of experts in terrestrial, marine and freshwater ‘megafauna’ species, both current and extinct.
“These semantic questions are not trivial at all,” says the UGR researcher. “In addition to facilitating understanding and transdisciplinary collaboration, our conceptual framework has important consequences when it comes to directing funds dedicated to financing research and biodiversity conservation efforts, as well as rethinking teaching practices in schools and universities ”.
Moleón et al. Rethinking megafauna
Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. Volume 287, Issue 1922. March 2020. Pages 20192643
Doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2019.264
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