Understanding the biogeochemical processes regulating carbon cycling is central to mitigating atmospheric CO2 emissions and climate change. The role of living organisms has been accounted for, but the focus has traditionally been on contributions of plants and microbes. This co-presentation by Schmitz and Wilmers provides an overview of why a full accounting of sources and fates of carbon in ecosystems will be incomplete without broader consideration of the functional role of animal species, especially the role they play in mediating biogeochemical processes and influencing carbon storage and exchange among ecosystems and the atmosphere. We present a conceptual trophic systems perspective that explains the myriad direct and indirect effects that animals may have in controlling carbon cycling in ecosystems and in controlling carbon exchange between various terrestrial and aquatic reservoirs and the atmosphere.
Examination of cases studies, motivated by the concpetual framework, suggest that the estimated magnitudes of animal effects can rival that of plants and microbes and thereby suggests that there is much promise in protecting and managing animal biodiversity as a way to help manage global carbon budgets. The case studies will also point to missing pieces of critical information that are needed to enhance scientific conclusions about the relationhsip between animal distribution and abundances, and ecosystem carbon storage. The presentation ends with setting the stage for the other presentations in the symposium by sketching a framework for new kinds geospatial research approaches that are needed to connect animal distributional and abundance, spatial variation in trophic interactions, and geospatial patterning in ecosystem carbon storage.