The mesoscavenger release hypothesis and implications for ecosystem and human well‐being
Many apex scavenger species, including nearly all obligate scavengers, are in a state of rapid decline and there is growing evidence these declines can drastically alter ecological food webs. Our understanding of how apex scavengers regulate populations of mesoscavengers, those less‐efficient scavengers occupying mid‐trophic levels, is improving; yet, there has been no comprehensive evaluation of the evidence around the competitive release of these species by the loss of apex scavengers. Here we present current evidence that supports the mesoscavenger release hypothesis, the increase in mesoscavengers and increase in carrion in the face of declining apex scavengers. We provide two models of scavenger dynamics to demonstrate that the mesoscavenger release hypothesis is consistent with ecological theory. We further examine the ecological and human well‐being implications of apex scavenger decline, including carrion removal and disease regulation services.