A prominent signal of the Anthropocene is the extinction and population reduction of the megabiota—the largest animals and plants on the planet. However, we lack a predictive framework for the sensitivity of megabiota during times of rapid global change and how they impact the functioning of ecosystems and the biosphere. Here, we extend metabolic scaling theory and use global simulation models to demonstrate that (i) megabiota are more prone to extinction due to human land use, hunting, and climate change; (ii) loss of megabiota has a negative impact on ecosystem metabolism and functioning; and (iii) their reduction has and will continue to significantly decrease biosphere functioning. Global simulations show that continued loss of large animals alone could lead to a 44%, 18% and 92% reduction in terrestrial heterotrophic biomass, metabolism, and fertility respectively. Our findings suggest that policies that emphasize the promotion of large trees and animals will have disproportionate impact on biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and climate mitigation.
Our future in the Anthropocene biosphere
Abstract The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an interconnected and tightly coupled globalized world in rapid change. This article sets the scientific stage for understanding and responding to such change for global sustainability and resilient societies. We provide a systemic overview of the current situation where people and nature are dynamically intertwined and embedded in the biosphere, placing shocks and extreme events as part of this dynamic; humanity has become the major force in shaping the future of the Earth system as a whole; and the scale and pace of the human dimension have caused climate change, rapid loss of biodiversity, growing inequalities, and loss of resilience to deal with uncertainty and surprise. Taken together, human actions are challenging the biosphere foundation for a prosperous development of civilizations. The Anthropocene reality—of rising system-wide turbulence—calls for transformative change towards sustainable futures. Emerging technologies, social innovations, broader shifts in cultural repertoires, as well as a diverse portfolio of active stewardship of human actions in support of a resilient biosphere are highlighted as essential parts of such transformations.
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