Large animal’s contribution to soil fertility

 

elephantsThis is one ecological study I find very interesting and unique, as it is also been described as ‘crucial’ by the researchers of the University of Oxford’s Environment Change Institute.

The study that was published in the journal Nature Geoscience talks about how large animals, known for their voracious eating habits, and who took over domination of the planet from extinct dinosaurs, became responsible for long-distance soil fertilization. Large animals ate much more and traveled far distances than small ones.

 “Big animals are like the nutrient arteries of the planet and if they go extinct it is like severing these arteries,” co-author Chris Doughty reportedly said.

And this is just what happened when mass extinction of large animals in the Pleistocene era caused the insufficiency of soil nutrients, which made the researchers issue a warning that if killing of modern day giants like the elephant goes unabated, that fertile grounds will exceedinglydisappear.

The Pleistocene era, which dated from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, saw large animals, dubbed megafauna, roaming in some parts of the world, only to die out en mass themselves.

According to the study, during their peak, much of the world resembled a modern-day African savannah.

South America, for example, was teeming with five-ton ground sloths, armadillo-like glyptodonts the size of a small car, and herds of elephant-like cuvieronius and stegomastodonts.

These megafauna animals, weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds), played a key role in fertilizing soil far away from the areas near rivers where they fed – ploughing the nutrients they consumed back into circulation through their dung or their decomposing bodies when they died.

Using mathematical models, researchers estimated the megafauna extinction reduced the dispersal of key plant nutrient phosphorus in the Amazon basin by 98 percent, “with similar, though less extreme, decreases in all continents outside of Africa”, the only continent where modern humans co-evolved with megafauna.

Instead, the nutrients became concentrated near floodplains and other fertile areas.

“Because most of these animals went extinct the world has many more nutrient poor regions than it would have had.”

Indeed, a foreboding statement from the researchers, if I may say so, for our generation and those to come.

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