Underrated past herbivore densities could lead to misoriented sustainability policies

Pablo Manzano, Guillermo Pardo, Moustapha Itani, Agustín del Prado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Knowing the carrying capacity of the Earth’s grazed ecosystems, and the relevance of herbivory, is important for many scientific disciplines, as well as for policy. Current herbivore levels are estimated to be four to five times larger than at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition or the start of the industrial revolution. While this estimate can lead the general public and the scientific community to predict severe, widespread environmental impacts by livestock in terms of deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change, it ignores the inherent uncertainty of such calculations. We revise the evidence published during the last decade regarding Late Pleistocene herbivore abundance, along with contemporary and some pre-industrial data on herbivore density in grazed ecosystems. Both Late Pleistocene and pre-industrial herbivore levels are likely to be consistently higher than what has generally been assumed, confirming increasing awareness on the importance of herbivory as a widespread ecological process. We therefore call for more refined research in this field to have the reliable baselines currently demanded by society and policy. These baselines should orient sound action towards policies on biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, food systems, and climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Journalnpj Biodiversity
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • herbivory
  • grazing
  • open ecosystems
  • 1172 Environmental sciences
  • Climate change
  • Environmental policy
  • 412 Animal science, dairy science
  • Food systems

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