Collapse of an ecological network in Ancient Egypt

Justin D. Yeakel, Mathias M. Pires, Lars Rudolf, Nathaniel J. Dominy, Paul L. Koch, Paulo L. Guimaraes, Thilo Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)
624 Downloads (Pure)


The dynamics of ecosystem collapse are fundamental to determining how and why biological communities change through time, as well as the potential effects of extinctions on ecosystems. Here, we integrate depictions of mammals from Egyptian antiquity with direct lines of paleontological and archeological evidence to infer local extinctions and community dynamics over a 6,000-y span. The unprecedented temporal resolution of this dataset enables examination of how the tandem effects of human population growth and climate change can disrupt mammalian communities. We show that the extinctions of mammals in Egypt were nonrandom and that destabilizing changes in community composition coincided with abrupt aridification events and the attendant collapses of some complex societies. We also show that the roles of species in a community can change over time and that persistence is predicted by measures of species sensitivity, a function of local dynamic stability. To our knowledge, our study is the first high-resolution analysis of the ecological impacts of environmental change on predator–prey networks over millennial timescales and sheds light on the historical events that have shaped modern animal communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14472-14477
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014

Structured keywords

  • Engineering Mathematics Research Group


  • community stability
  • historical ecology
  • trophic interactions
  • dynamic sensitivity
  • redundancy


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