Diversity and depletions in continental carnivore guilds: implications for prioritizing global carnivore conservation

28 January 2009

Large carnivores are important ecosystem components but are extinction prone due to small populations, slow growth rates and large area requirements. Consequently, there has been a surge of carnivore conservation efforts. Such efforts typically target local populations, with limited attention to the effects on the ecosystem function of predator guilds. Also, there is no framework for prioritizing these efforts globally. We compared taxonomic and functional diversity of continental carnivore guilds, compared them with the corresponding guilds during the Late Pleistocene and synthesized our results into suggestions for global prioritizations for carnivore conservation. Recent extinctions have caused taxonomically and functionally depleted carnivore guilds in Europe and North and South America, contrasting with guilds in Africa and Asia, which have retained a larger proportion of their carnivores. However, Asia is at higher risk of suffering further extinctions than other continents. We suggest three priorities of contrasting urgency for global carnivore conservation: (i) to promote recovery of the threatened Asian species, (ii) to prevent species in the depleted guilds in Europe and North and South America from becoming threatened, and (iii) to reconstruct functionally intact sympatric guilds of large carnivores at ecologically effective population sizes.