Robert M. Pringle

Robert M. Pringle
Princeton University | PU · Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Ph.D.

About

165
Publications
94,968
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Introduction
I have always been fascinated by the ways in which species interactions “cascade” through food webs and other ecological networks, often with surprising outcomes. Research in my lab focuses on three main problems. The first is trying to understand the ways in which large mammalian herbivores directly and indirectly shape the ecosystems they inhabit: how do they affect plants and other animals, and what can this tell us about the likely impacts of past and future extinctions? A related focus is on how top predators structure communities by altering the abundance and behavior of their prey. Finally, I am interested in the spatial organization of these ecosystems–specifically, how regular patterns created by ecosystem engineers like termites influence the behavior of individuals, populations, and ecosystems.
Additional affiliations
July 2012 - July 2019
Princeton University
Position
  • Professor
Description
  • https://pringle.princeton.edu
July 2009 - June 2012
Harvard University
Position
  • Junior Fellow
July 2004 - June 2009
Stanford University
Position
  • PhD Student

Publications

Publications (165)
Article
Full-text available
Biological invasions are both a pressing environmental challenge and an opportunity to investigate fundamental ecological processes, such as the role of top predators in regulating biodiversity and food-web structure. In whole-ecosystem manipulations of small Caribbean islands on which brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) were the native top predato...
Article
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Trophic rewilding seeks to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems by repopulating them with large animals, thereby re-establishing strong top-down interactions. Yet there are very few tests of whether such initiatives can restore ecosystem structure and functions, and on what timescales. Here we show that war-induced collapse of large-mammal populations...
Article
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Food webs are a major focus and organizing theme of ecology, but the data used to assemble them are deficient. Early debates over food-web data focused on taxonomic resolution and completeness, lack of which had produced spurious inferences. Recent data are widely believed to be much better and are used extensively in theoretical and meta-analytic...
Article
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Size‐structured differences in resource use stabilize species coexistence in animal communities, but what behavioral mechanisms underpin these niche differences? Behavior is constrained by morphological and physiological traits that scale allometrically with body size, yet the degree to which behaviors exhibit allometric scaling remains unclear; em...
Article
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Ecological niche differences are necessary for stable species coexistence but are often dif- ficult to discern. Models of dietary niche differentiation in large mammalian herbivores invoke the quality, quantity, and spatiotemporal distribution of plant tissues and growth forms but are agnostic toward food plant species identity. Empirical support f...
Article
The landscape of fear (LOF) concept posits that prey navigate spatial heterogeneity in perceived predation risk, balancing risk mitigation against other activities necessary for survival and reproduction. These proactive behavioral responses to risk can affect individual fitness, population dynamics, species interactions, and coexistence. Yet, anti...
Article
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Amidst global shifts in the distribution and abundance of wildlife and livestock, we have only a rudimentary understanding of ungulate parasite communities and parasite-sharing patterns. We used qPCR and DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples to characterize gastrointestinal nematode (Strongylida) community composition and sharing among 17 sympatric sp...
Article
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Diet composition is among the most important yet least understood dimensions of animal ecology. Inspired by the study of species abundance distributions (SADs), we tested for generalities in the structure of vertebrate diets by characterising them as dietary abundance distributions (DADs). We compiled data on 1167 population‐level diets, representi...
Article
COVER PHOTO: An African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and two Grévy's zebras (Equus grevyi) forage at Mpala Research Centre and Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya during July 2019. These and other herbivores suppress plant biomass, and herbivore extinctions may trigger a cascade of broader changes throughout the ecological communities they once in...
Article
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Diverse communities of large mammalian herbivores (LMH), once widespread, are now rare. LMH exert strong direct and indirect effects on community structure and ecosystem functions, and measuring these effects is important for testing ecological theory and for understanding past, current, and future environmental change. This in turn requires long-t...
Article
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Sympatric large mammalian herbivore species differ in diet composition, both by eating different parts of the same plant and by eating different plant species. Various theories proposed to explain these differences are not mutually exclusive, but are difficult to reconcile and confront with data. Moreover, whereas several of these ideas were origin...
Article
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Camera traps (CTs) are a valuable tool in ecological research, amassing large quantities of information on the behaviour of diverse wildlife communities. CTs are predominantly used as passive data loggers to gather observational data for correlational analyses. Integrating CTs into experimental studies, however, can enable rigorous testing of key h...
Article
Resource partitioning stabilizes species coexistence but has long been difficult to measure. DNA metabarcoding reveals previously hidden dimensions of this problem and insights relevant for understanding and fostering coexistence — not just among wild carnivores, but also between carnivores and people.
Article
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Understanding the evolutionary consequences of wildlife exploitation is increasingly important as harvesting becomes more efficient. We examined the impacts of ivory poaching during the Mozambican Civil War (1977 to 1992) on the evolution of African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Gorongosa National Park. Poaching resulted in strong selec...
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Equids are chronically infected with parasitic strongyle nematodes. There is a rich literature on horse strongyles, but they are difficult to identify morphologically and genetic studies on strongyles infecting other equid species are few, hampering studies of host specificity. We sequenced expelled worms from two sympatric zebra species in central...
Article
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Significance Declines of wild megafauna are expected to transform ecosystems and are known to influence tree–grass balance in African savannas, but the effects of large herbivores on lianas are unknown. Using diet analysis, long-term exclosure experiments, and smaller-scale manipulations, we show that liana infestation occurred rapidly after the lo...
Article
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Explaining large-scale ordered patterns and their effects on ecosystem functioning is a fundamental and controversial challenge in ecology. Here, we coupled empirical and theoretical approaches to explore how competition and spatial heterogeneity govern the regularity of colony dispersion in fungus-farming termites. Individuals from different colon...
Article
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Major disturbances can temporarily remove factors that otherwise constrain population abundance and distribution. During such windows of relaxed top-down and/or bottom-up control, ungulate populations can grow rapidly, eventually leading to resource depletion and density-dependent expansion into less-preferred habitats. Although many studies have e...
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The extinction of 80% of megaherbivore (>1,000 kg) species towards the end of the Pleistocene altered vegetation structure, fire dynamics, and nutrient cycling worldwide. Ecologists have proposed (re)introducing megaherbivores or their ecological analogues to restore lost ecosystem functions and reinforce extant but declining megaherbivore populati...
Article
Pollination by animals is a key ecosystem service¹,² and interactions between plants and their pollinators are a model system for studying ecological networks,³,⁴ yet plant-pollinator networks are typically studied in isolation from the broader ecosystems in which they are embedded. The plants visited by pollinators also interact with other consume...
Article
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Spatially overdispersed mounds of fungus‐farming termites (Macrotermitinae) are hotspots of nutrient availability and primary productivity in tropical savannas, creating spatial heterogeneity in communities and ecosystem functions. These termites influence the local availability of nutrients in part by redistributing nutrients across the landscape,...
Chapter
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Article
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1. Theory predicts that trophic specialization (i.e. low dietary diversity) should make consumer populations sensitive to environmental disturbances. Yet diagnosing specialization is complicated both by the difficulty of precisely quantifying diet composition and by definitional ambiguity: what makes a diet 'diverse'? 2. We sought to characterize t...
Article
Reconstructing prehistoric animal communities is important for understanding the emergence of modern ecosystems and the environmental context of human evolution. A new study of African fossils spanning seven million years shows that ancient large-herbivore assemblages were functionally distinct from those that exist today.
Article
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In polygynous lizards, malemale competition is an important driver of morphologic and behavioral traits associated with intraspecific dominance. The extent to which females engage in aggressive behavior and thus contribute to competition-driven morphologic variation is not well studied. We used injury frequencies of brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) in...
Article
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A major challenge in biology is to understand how phylogeny, diet, and environment shape the mammalian gut microbiome. Yet most studies of nonhuman microbiomes have relied on relatively coarse dietary categorizations and have focused either on individual wild populations or on captive animals that are sheltered from environmental pressures, which m...
Article
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Natural habitats are rapidly being converted to cultivated croplands, and crop-raiding by wildlife threatens both wildlife conservation and human livelihoods worldwide. We combined movement data from GPS-collared elephants with camera-trap data and local reporting systems in a before-after-control-impact design to evaluate community-based strategie...
Article
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Current methods for capturing human dietary patterns typically rely on individual recall and as such are subject to the limitations of human memory. DNA sequencing-based approaches, frequently used for profiling nonhuman diets, do not suffer from the same limitations. Here, we used metabarcoding to broadly characterize the plant portion of human di...
Article
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Founder populations often show rapid divergence from source populations after colonizing new environments. Epigenetic modifications can mediate phenotypic responses to environmental change and may be an important mechanism promoting rapid differentiation in founder populations. Whereas many long-term studies have explored the extent to which diverg...
Article
A detailed biological assessment of Africa’s highest mountain explores how climate modulates the effects of human land use on plants, animals, microorganisms and a diverse array of ecosystem functions. https://www.nature.com/magazine-assets/d41586-019-00939-8/d41586-019-00939-8.pdf
Article
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How do large-mammal communities reassemble after being pushed to the brink of extinction? Few data are available to answer this question, as it is rarely possible to document both the decline and recovery of wildlife populations. Here we present the first in-depth quantitative account of war-induced collapse and postwar recovery in a diverse assemb...
Data
Absolute total numbers of all animals counted during aerial surveys of Gorongosa National Park. Records are limited to Rift Valley habitat within the limits of the 2014–2016 count block. Grey cells are years in which given species were not surveyed. Numbers can be converted into biomass by multiplying by the species-specific body mass estimates sho...
Data
Illustrative metadata for the individual sightings of wildlife in Gorongosa National Park from aerial surveys spanning the period 1969–2018. The table shows five records from the dataset; the interpretation of each column heading is described below. The full dataset of 70,102 spatially referenced sighting records is available as a supplementary onl...
Data
Converting raw count data into comparable figures. (DOCX)
Data
Estimated numerical densities (individuals km-2) of all animals counted during aerial surveys of GNP. Rrecords are limited to Rift Valley habitat within the 2014–2016 count block. Grey cells are years in which a given species was not surveyed. These are the values used in our primary analyses in the main text. Numbers can be converted into biomass...
Data
Absolute total numbers of all animals counted during the aerial surveys of GNP and limited areas north of the park boundary (uncorrected for area and habitat covered). Grey cells are years in which a given species was not surveyed. Hatched cells are years for which no spatial information is available. [37]. (DOCX)
Data
Estimation of total large-herbivore carrying capacity (Ktot). Data are from [38]. Blue lines show 90th and 10th quantile regression lines, used as estimates of upper and lower plausible estimates of Ktot, respectively; red line shows ordinary least squares regression. Thin gray lines show estimates of mean annual precipitation (vertical) and biomas...
Data
Spatial pattern of waterbuck sightings based on spatially equivalent flight lines in helicopter surveys of the Rift Valley portion of Gorongosa from 2001 to 2016. For 2014 and 2016, only data from the same sample lines as used in earlier counts are included, and all years are clipped to show only the spatial extent of the 2014/2016 ‘total counts.’...
Data
Data set of 70,102 spatially referenced sighting records of wildlife from 15 aerial wildlife counts 1969–2018. (XLSX)
Data
Construction of the logistic-regression model. (DOCX)
Data
Wildlife introduction and translocations into GNP. Table includes numbers of individuals, years, and localities of origin for each of seven wildlife species introduced into the park between 2007–2018 (precise sex ratios for each group are not known). Only elephant bulls were translocated in 2008. Coutada 9 is a hunting concession located ~180 km no...
Article
Full-text available
The world’s largest carnivores are declining and now occupy mere fractions of their historical ranges. Theory predicts that when apex predators disappear, large herbivores should become less fearful, occupy new habitats, and modify those habitats by eating new food plants. Yet experimental support for this prediction has been difficult to obtain in...
Article
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1.Crop raiding by wildlife poses major threats to both wildlife conservation and human wellbeing in agro‐ecosystems worldwide. These threats are particularly acute in many parts of Africa, where crop raiders include globally threatened megafauna such as elephants, and where smallholder agriculture is a primary source of human livelihood. One framew...
Article
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Applications of DNA barcoding include identifying species, inferring ecological and evolutionary relationships between species, and DNA metabarcoding. These applications require reference libraries that are not yet available for many taxa and geographic regions. We collected, identified, and vouchered plant specimens from Mpala Research Center in L...
Article
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Resource limitation is a fundamental factor governing the composition and function of ecological communities. However, the role of resource supply in structuring the intestinal microbiome has not been established and represents a challenge for mam- mals that rely on microbial symbionts for digestion: too little supply might starve the microbiome wh...
Article
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1. Diverse megafauna assemblages have declined or disappeared throughout much of the world, and many efforts are underway to restore them. Understanding the trophic ecology of such reassembling systems is necessary for predicting recovery dynamics, guiding management, and testing general theory. Yet there are few studies of recovering large‐mammal...
Article
When herbivores avoid areas with high predation risk, the intensity of plant consumption and nutrient deposition is distributed unevenly across landscapes. Experimental work in African savanna ecosystems shows that the biggest herbivores, virtually immune to predators, smooth out these imbalances.
Article
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Intraspecific variation in plant defense phenotype is common and has wide‐ranging ecological consequences. Yet prevailing theories of plant defense allocation, which primarily account for interspecific differences in defense phenotype, often fail to predict intraspecific patterns. Furthermore, although individual variation in defense phenotype is o...
Article
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Full-text available at: http://rdcu.be/ErWC ___________________________________________________________________________ Large-mammal populations are ecological linchpins1, and their worldwide decline2 and extinction3 disrupts many ecosystem functions and services4. Reversing this trend requires understanding the determinants of population decline,...
Article
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Predicting how species' abundances and ranges will shift in response to climate change requires a mechanistic understanding of how multiple factors interact to limit population growth. Both abiotic stress and species interactions can limit populations and potentially set range boundaries, but we have a poor understanding of when and where each is m...
Article
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African savannas support an iconic fauna, but they are undergoing large-scale population declines and extinctions of large (>5 kg) mammals. Long-term, controlled, replicated experiments that explore the consequences of this defaunation (and its replacement with livestock) are rare. The Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County, Kenya, hosts three su...
Article
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Both large-wildlife loss and climatic changes can independently influence the prevalence and distribution of zoonotic disease. Given growing evidence that wildlife loss often has stronger community-level effects in low-productivity areas, we hypothesized that these perturbations would have interactive effects on disease risk. We experimentally test...
Article
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Ant-plant protection symbioses, in which plants provide food and/or shelter for ants in exchange for protection from herbivory, are model systems for understanding the ecology of mutualism. While interactions between ants, host plants, and herbivores have been intensively studied, we know little about how plant-plant interactions influence the dyna...
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International agreements mandate the expansion of Earth’s protected-area network as a bulwark against the continued extinction of wild populations, species, and ecosystems. Yet many protected areas are underfunded, poorly managed, and ecologically damaged; the conundrum is how to increase their coverage and effectiveness simultaneously. Innova- tiv...
Article
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Understanding the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on zoonotic disease risk is both a critical conservation objective and a public health priority. Here, we evaluate the effects of multiple forms of anthropogenic disturbance across a precipitation gradient on the abundance of pathogen-infected small mammal hosts in a multi-host, multi-pathogen...
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1. Large mammalian herbivores (LMH) strongly shape the composition and architecture of plant communities. A growing literature shows that negative direct effects of LMH on vegetation frequently propagate to suppress the abundance of smaller consumers. Accepted Article This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Indirect effects of...