Scientists from Syracuse University and the Netherlands create first global map of grazing mammal biodiversity

A team of biologists at Syracuse University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands has created the first global map of biodiversity hotspots or areas that have the most potential to support a diverse array of plant-eating mammals. Their findings will be published in the Feb. 21 issue of Nature.

We developed a way to identify prime regions for mammal diversity that could potentially become areas for conservation or restoration, says Mark Ritchie, professor of biology in Syracuse Universitys College of Arts and Sciences. Ritchie worked on the study with Han Olff and Herbert H.T. Prins of the Wageningen University. We were able to predict and explain the number of species in a given area based on the amount of rainfall and the fertility of the soil.

The global map that resulted from their research shows that more than half of the areas that are prime regions for a diverse array of plant-eating mammals has already been converted to agriculture and has lost its diversity. Another 25 percent of the prime regions may be converted to agriculture over the next 25 years. The researchers predict that by 2025, less than 1.2 percent of the earths surface may remain to support uniquely diverse grazing ecosystems.

We are concerned that these prime regions show very little overlap with areas designated as hotspots for the biodiversity of plants, birds, reptiles and other types of mammals, Ritchie says. Thus, the areas we have identified for plant-eating mammals would have to be conserved separately.

Large plant-eating mammals, such as bison, antelope, giraffes, hippos and elephants are among the most visible and important wildlife species, Ritchie says. However, the factors that control their biodiversity, or number of species in an area, have not been fully understood.

Contrary to popular belief, areas of high rainfall do not have the most diverse populations of plant-eating mammals, Ritchie says. While the areas tend to produce

Contact: Judy Holmes
Syracuse University

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