, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 344-359
Date: 19 Sep 2013

Animating the Carbon Cycle

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Abstract

Understanding the biogeochemical processes regulating carbon cycling is central to mitigating atmospheric CO2 emissions. The role of living organisms has been accounted for, but the focus has traditionally been on contributions of plants and microbes. We develop the case that fully “animating” the carbon cycle requires broader consideration of the functional role of animals in mediating biogeochemical processes and quantification of their effects on carbon storage and exchange among terrestrial and aquatic reservoirs and the atmosphere. To encourage more hypothesis-driven experimental research that quantifies animal effects we discuss the mechanisms by which animals may affect carbon exchanges and storage within and among ecosystems and the atmosphere. We illustrate how those mechanisms lead to multiplier effects whose magnitudes may rival those of more traditional carbon storage and exchange rate estimates currently used in the carbon budget. Many animal species are already directly managed. Thus improved quantitative understanding of their influence on carbon budgets may create opportunity for management and policy to identify and implement new options for mitigating CO2 release at regional scales.

Author Contributions

All authors discussed the concepts and contributed to writing the manuscript.