Unrecognized threat to global soil carbon by a widespread invasive species

Christopher O'Bryan, Nicholas Patton, Jim Hone, Jesse Lewis, Violeta Berdejo-Espinola, Derek Risch, Matthew Holden, Eve McDonald-Madden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Most of Earth's terrestrial carbon is stored in the soil and can be released as carbon dioxide (CO2) when disturbed. Although humans are known to exacerbate soil CO2 emissions through land-use change, we know little about the global carbon footprint of invasive species. We predict the soil area disturbed and resulting CO2 emissions from wild pigs (Sus scrofa), a pervasive human-spread vertebrate that uproots soil. We do this using models of wild pig population density, soil damage, and their effect on soil carbon emissions. Our models suggest that wild pigs are uprooting a median area of 36,214 km2 (mean of 123,517 km2) in their non-native range, with a 95% prediction interval (PI) of 14,208 km2–634,238 km2. This soil disturbance results in median emissions of 4.9 million metric tonnes (MMT) CO2 per year (equivalent to 1.1 million passenger vehicles or 0.4% of annual emissions from land use, land-use change, and forestry; mean of 16.7 MMT) but that it is highly uncertain (95% PI, 0.3–94 MMT CO2) due to variability in wild pig density and soil dynamics. This uncertainty points to an urgent need for more research on the contribution of wild pigs to soil damage, not only for the reduction of anthropogenically related carbon emissions, but also for co-benefits to biodiversity and food security that are crucial for sustainable development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15769
Pages (from-to)877-882
Number of pages6
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


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