Mammal diversity influences the carbon cycle through trophic interactions in the Amazon

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Biodiversity affects many ecosystem functions and services, including carbon cycling and retention. While it is known that the efficiency of carbon capture and biomass production by ecological communities increases with species diversity, the role of vertebrate animals in the carbon cycle remains undocumented. Here, we use an extensive dataset collected in a high-diversity Amazonian system to parse out the relationship between animal and plant species richness, feeding interactions, tree biomass and carbon concentrations in soil. Mammal and tree species richness is positively related to tree biomass and carbon concentration in soil—and the relationship is mediated by organic remains produced by vertebrate feeding events. Our research advances knowledge of the links between biodiversity and carbon cycling and storage, supporting the view that whole community complexity—including vertebrate richness and trophic interactions—drives ecosystem function in tropical systems. Securing animal and plant diversity while protecting landscape integrity will contribute to soil nutrient content and carbon retention in the biosphere.

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We thank the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for permission to work in the Rupununi. We thank the National Science Foundation (NSF; Grant BE/CNH 05 08094), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Stanford University for financial and administrative support. We thank the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation, the North Rupununi District Development Board, and the Deep South Toshaos’ Council for support in Guyana. K. Epps, D. Turner and E. Kurten collaborated with soil sampling and analyses. N. Butts and A. Cummings sampled tree diversity and carbon in trees. Additionally, A. R. Larrinaga, A. Baselga and C. Gómez provided useful suggestions and collaborated with GIS work. We thank H. Mooney, C. Field, E. Garnier, C. Violle, A. Milcu, S. Hattenschwiler, B. Shipley, C. Tucker, M. Grennié, A. M. Cortizas, B. Glaser, A. da Rocha, L. García de Jalón and the Guitián lab for comments on the manuscript. S. García created the illustration. We thank the Makushi, Wapishana and Wai-Wai technicians whose fieldwork and local knowledge made this research possible.

Author information


  1. Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA

    • Mar Sobral
    •  & José M. V. Fragoso
  2. Center of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, CNRS, Montpellier, 34293, France

    • Mar Sobral
  3. Department of Zoology, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, 15782, Spain

    • Mar Sobral
  4. Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061, USA

    • Kirsten M. Silvius
  5. State University of New York-ESF, Syracuse, NY, 13210, USA

    • Han Overman
  6. Museu Nacional/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, 21941, Brazil

    • Luiz F. B. Oliveira
  7. Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA

    • Ted K. Rabb
  8. The California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, 94118, USA

    • José M. V. Fragoso


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J.M.V.F., M.S., K.M.S. and L.F.B.O. conceptualized this study. M.S. completed the statistical analyses. J.M.V.F., K.M.S., H.O., L.F.B.O., T.K.R. and other colleagues designed the field study and/or oversaw data collection. M.S. and K.M.S. drafted the manuscript with all authors participating in revisions.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mar Sobral.

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