“Losing megafauna has a disproportionate effect on remaining species,” Tóth said.
Think of iconic scenes of African lions, giraffes, zebras and antelope at a waterhole sharing the same space. During the worst droughts, elephants dig for water, helping other animals.
“If we lose the rest of the African megafauna, Africa could come to resemble the drastically reduced assemblages of species we see in North America today,” she said.
Smaller animals such as jackals, baboons and warthogs, which already have proven adaptable around people, could become more common, while the great menageries of animals could disappear. Human impacts and climate will determine where species are found, not the location of the species’ natural interaction partners as predators, prey, competitors or facilitators.
“We have a planet losing species. Every time we lose one, we lose all the cryptic interactions that are important to the functioning of an ecosystem,” Miller said. “It’s becoming increasingly important to preserve what we’ve got left.”