What is “megafauna”?

“Megafauna” has fascinated humans since our origins, when the large animals that we fed upon, compete with us and killed us were painted in caves. Today, we also know that megafauna play key and irreplaceable roles in ecosystems.

An international team of researchers, led by Marcos Moleón from the University of Granada and with the participation of Nuria Selva, from our Institute, has tackled this question and found that definitions of megafauna in the scientific literature include very disparate combinations of species: from the smallest organisms readily visible in photographs to the largest vertebrates ever on earth.

For a marine biologist concerned with seabed, megafauna can be a crab or a sea slug; for a soil researcher, megafauna could be an earthworm; for a paleontologist, megafauna refers to vertebrates similar or superior in weight to humans; and for some terrestrial ecologists, only ‘megaherbivores’ – herbivores exceeding a tone in weight – should be labeled as megafauna. The term has been used and has evolved within each discipline, with little connection among the multiple disciplines concerned with megafauna. In this review, authors suggest that size alone is insufficient to adequately describe megafauna, and propose some new definitions that also take into account the ecological function and characteristics of species.

This review is the result of the joint efforts of terrestrial, marine and freshwater megafauna experts from research institutions of all continents, and has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and is highlighted in its March issue’s cover.

Link to the paper: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.2643