Large herbivores and carnivores (the megafauna) have been in a state of decline and extinction since the Late Pleistocene, both on land and more recently in the oceans. Much has been written on the timing and causes of these declines, but only recently has scientific attention focused on the consequences of these declines for ecosystem function.

The past was a world of giants, with abundant whales in the sea and large animals roaming the land. However, that world came to an end following massive late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions on land and widespread population reductions in great whale populations over the past few centuries. These losses are likely to have had important consequences for broad-scale nutrient cycling, because recent literature suggests that large animals disproportionately drive nutrient movement.

In 2005 and 2010 the Amazon basin experienced two strong droughts, driven by shifts in the tropical hydrological regime possibly associated with global climate change, as predicted by some global models. Tree mortality increased after the 2005 drought, and regional atmospheric inversion modelling showed basin-wide decreases in CO2 uptake in 2010 compared with 2011. But the response of tropical forest carbon cycling to these droughts is not fully understood and there has been no detailed multi-site investigation in situ.