Mammal defauntation and trophic cascades in Ethiopia
Large mammals have been widely recognized to play key roles in ecosystem functioning. In many ecosystems, small mammals also drive ecosystem processes. Through habitat engineering and interactions with diverse constituents of the faunal and floral communities, animal control of physiochemical processes and energy flow reverberates through the ecosystem. However, it is not yet clear to what degree mammal community composition and the interaction of each species’ distinctive top-down ecological control affects overall ecosystem function. Thus, it is not yet possible to predict which species and in which combinations, when extirpated from a system, are likely to cause the largest impact to the long-term provision of ecosystem services in an era of increasing species loss. With increasingly efficient means of surveying animal communities and ecosystem processes at broad spatial scales, it is now becoming possible to link mammal community composition to ecosystem processes. For my DPhil research, I will jointly and spatially-explicitly measure the mammalian community composition, nutrient cycling processes, and plant community structure in remnant afroalpine grassland habitats in Ethiopia. Using a combination of distance sampling, aerial surveying and trapping, I will compare spatial heterogeneity in mammal assemblages to variability in key ecosystem processes derived from high resolution unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) habitat mapping and physiochemical sampling of afroalpine soil and vegetation.