Dung is vital to life on Earth. The mass extinction of large mammals – and our squeamishness at our own bodily functions – is an environmental tragedy

It’s a logical result of extinction, so one wonders why no one bothered to do the sum before: what happened to the world when it lost the cumulative billions of tonnes of faeces produced by mammoths, sloths and whales? A new study from the University of Vermont has shown that the planet has suffered twofold from the removal of this biomass. Not only from the lack of diversity created by the extinctions of ancient megafauna and modern, human-induced depletions of many species – from seabirds to elephants, and whales – but from what they once did for our planet by spreading their poo around, redistributing nutrients and fertilising new growth.

“The past was a world of giants,” the new paper rhapsodises, evoking an Edenic world – albeit one full of poo. Dr Joe Roman, co-author of the study, says: “This once was a world that had 10 times more whales, 20 times more anadromous fish like salmon, double the number of seabirds, and 10 times more large herbivores like giant sloths and mastodons and mammoths … this broken global cycle may weaken ecosystem health, fisheries and agriculture.”

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Source: Guardian Environment