, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 344-359

First online:

Animating the Carbon Cycle

  • Oswald J. SchmitzAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University Email author 
  • , Peter A. RaymondAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
  • , James A. EstesAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California
  • , Werner A. KurzAffiliated withNatural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
  • , Gordon W. HoltgrieveAffiliated withSchool of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington
  • , Mark E. RitchieAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Syracuse University
  • , Daniel E. SchindlerAffiliated withSchool of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington
  • , Amanda C. SpivakAffiliated withMarine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • , Rod W. WilsonAffiliated withBiosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
    • , Mark A. BradfordAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
    • , Villy ChristensenAffiliated withFisheries Centre, University of British Columbia
    • , Linda DeeganAffiliated withThe Ecosystems Center Marine Biological Laboratory
    • , Victor SmetacekAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
    • , Michael J. VanniAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology Graduate Program, Miami University
    • , Christopher C. WilmersAffiliated withEnvironmental Studies Department, University of California

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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.

Key words:

animal mediation of carbon cycling animal multiplier effects animal management for carbon storage biogeochemical cycling regional carbon budgets