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Global change may alter the way that hippos shape the environment around them: study

The average hippo weighs more than 3,000 pounds and consumes about 100 pounds of vegetation daily. This naturally results in large quantities of dung being deposited into the rivers and lakes where hippos spend their days. In general, the nutrients delivered via hippo dung to such aquatic ecosystems are perceived to be beneficial. For millennia, they provided a natural source of fertilizer that appears to fuel life in aquatic food webs. That may be changing.

In sub-Saharan Africa, deforestation, water-intensive agriculture and now climate change are significantly altering water cycles and causing many rivers to begin to dry. A new study by UC Santa Barbara community ecologist Keenan Stears, with colleagues at UC Berkeley and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, examines how these forces of global change are redefining the way hippos—and their dung—shape the ecology of freshwater ecosystems. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Keenan Stears

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