Scavenging is an important function within ecosystems where scavengers remove organic matter, reduce disease, stabilize food webs, and generally make ecosystems more resilient to environmental changes. Global change (i.e., changing climate and increasing human impact) is currently influencing scavenger communities. Thus, understanding what promotes species richness in scavenger communities can help prioritize management actions. Using a long-term dataset from camera traps deployed with animal carcasses as bait along a 1881 km latitudinal gradient in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern USA, we investigated the relative impact of climate and humans on the species richness and diversity of vertebrate scavengers. Our most supported models for both mammalian and avian scavengers included climatic, but not human, variables. The richness of mammalian and avian scavengers detected was highest during relatively warm (5–10°C) and dry (100–150 mm precipitation) winters, when food was likely limited and both reliance on and detection of carrion was high. The diversity of mammalian and avian scavengers detected was highest under drier conditions. We then used these results to project the future species richness of scavengers that would be detected within our sampling area and under the climate scenario of 2070 (emissions level RCP8.5). Our predictions suggest up to 80% and 67% reductions, respectively, in the richness of avian and mammalian scavengers that would be detected at baited sites. Climate-induced shifts in behavior (i.e., reduction in scavenging, even if present) at this scale could have cascading implications for ecosystem function, resilience, and human health. Further, our study highlights the importance of conducting studies of scavenger community dynamics within ecosystems across wide spatial gradients within temperate environments. More broadly, these findings build upon our understanding of the impacts of climate-induced adjustments in behavior that can likely have negative impacts on systems at a large scale.
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Predicted climate-induced reductions in scavenging in eastern North America|
|Series title||Global Change Biology|
|Contributing office(s)||Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center|
|Other Geospatial||Appalachian Mountains|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|