When most people think of predator animals like lions or wolves in terms of their environmental impact, they might associate them with functions pertaining to population control and not much else. We’re starting to see that the impact and necessity of the predator is much more profound than we realize.
Science is finding that predators influence the world around them to such and extent that they can even alter the course of rivers and reverse drought conditions.
The effect predators have on their environment is called a “trophic cascade” According to Wikipedia:
“Trophic cascades occur when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter traits (e.g., behavior) of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level frompredation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is a herbivore). For example, if the abundance of large piscivorous fish is increased in a lake, the abundance of their prey, smaller fish that eat zooplankton, should decrease. The resulting increase in zooplankton should, in turn, cause the biomass of its prey, phytoplankton, to decrease.
This theory has stimulated new research in many areas of ecology. Trophic cascades may also be important for understanding the effects of removing top predators from food webs, as humans have done in many places through hunting and fishing activities.”
Further evidence for the importance of predators can be seen in the Documentary series “Earth A New Wild” where Dr. M. Sanjayan shows us how predators prevent the desertification of landscapes, halt the spread of disease, and more.
Going back to the topic of desertification, Conservationists used to think that the only way to prevent over-grazing (and with it soil erosion) was to cull herds of grazing animals.
They’re finding now that culling animal herds isn’t necessary. When big herds are kept on the move (by avoiding predators), they don’t have a chance to over-graze and erode soil. In fact, it’s been found that keeping herds on the move actually has a revitalizing effect on the landscape.
Predators fill this natural role of keeping herds on the move, and it’s a tactic we can utilize to help bring back endangered species and regrow our grasslands simultaneously. It also gives us another way to approach farming cattle that is better for the environment.
Here’s the description from youtube:
“Produced by National Geographic Studios in association with Passion Planet, the series is hosted by Dr. M. Sanjayan, leading conservation scientist, who takes viewers on a stunning visual journey to explore how humans are inextricably woven into every aspect of the planet’s natural systems.
With 45 shoots to 29 different countries, the series features spectacular natural history footage from the most striking places on Earth, filming encounters between wild animals and the people who live and work with them. With up-close looks at a range of species, from giant pandas to humpback whales and African lions to Arctic reindeer, Sanjayan reveals that co-habitations with animals can work — and be mutually beneficial.”
You can see the whole series on YouTube, here are a couple to get you started. It is well worth the watch, especially if you are looking for something to inspire you and restore faith that there’s still hope of reversing some of the damage we’ve done.