Shared Insights across the Ecology of Coral Reefs and African Savannas: Are Parrotfish Wet Wildebeest?

Deron E. Burkepile, Melissa H. Schmitt, Keenan Stears, Mary K. Donovan, Dave I. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Comparison across terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems facilitates a broader understanding of ecological patterns. Although meta-analyses are important for quantitative synthesis across ecosystems, detailed comparisons of natural history and species interactions also illuminate convergence among systems. We compare the ecology of superficially dissimilar African savannas and coral reefs via shared characteristics including: (1) hyperdiverse guilds of large vertebrate herbivores and predators, (2) similar mechanisms driving positive feedback loops between herbivory and primary production, (3) similar roles of disturbance and herbivory in mediating ecosystem state, and (4) numerous smaller vertebrate and invertebrate species that underpin diversity and ecosystem processes. Our goal in comparing the natural history and ecology of these ecosystems is to facilitate others in finding their own comparative systems. We encourage scientists, especially early-career scientists, to explore ecosystems other than their primary focus. Whatever your ecosystem of study, examining the ecology of its analog in another environment may enliven your career.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)647-658
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • ecosystem function
  • grazing ecosystem
  • herbivory
  • synthesis
  • trophic cascade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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