Large mammalian carnivores are ecologically important because relatively few individuals can cause strong predation-driven direct effects or fear-driven indirect effects that can ripple through communities and, ultimately, influence ecosystem structure and function. Most mammalian carnivores are not large, however, but are small to midsized species collectively termed “mesocarnivores.” Mesocarnivores are more numerous and more diverse than larger carnivores, and often reside in closer proximity to humans, yet we know little about how they influence communities and ecosystems. In this article we review the ecological role of the mesocarnivore and present examples where mesocarnivores drive community structure and function in roles similar to, or altogether different from, their larger brethren. Together, these examples substantiate the need for an assessment of the ecological role of mammalian carnivores beyond an examination of only the largest species. In particular, we emphasize the need to study the trophic penetrance of mesocarnivores and examine how ecological context modulates their functional role.
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Vol. 59 • No. 2