Extent and ecological consequences of hunting in Central African rainforests in the twenty-first century

K. A. Abernethy, L. Coad, G. Taylor, M. E. Lee, F. Maisels

Abstract

Humans have hunted wildlife in Central Africa for millennia. Today, however, many species are being rapidly extirpated and sanctuaries for wildlife are dwindling. Almost all Central Africa's forests are now accessible to hunters. Drastic declines of large mammals have been caused in the past 20 years by the commercial trade for meat or ivory. We review a growing body of empirical data which shows that trophic webs are significantly disrupted in the region, with knock-on effects for other ecological functions, including seed dispersal and forest regeneration. Plausible scenarios for land-use change indicate that increasing extraction pressure on Central African forests is likely to usher in new worker populations and to intensify the hunting impacts and trophic cascade disruption already in progress, unless serious efforts are made for hunting regulation. The profound ecological changes initiated by hunting will not mitigate and may even exacerbate the predicted effects of climate change for the region. We hypothesize that, in the near future, the trophic changes brought about by hunting will have a larger and more rapid impact on Central African rainforest structure and function than the direct impacts of climate change on the vegetation. Immediate hunting regulation is vital for the survival of the Central African rainforest ecosystem.

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© 2013 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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