Study finds larger plants and animals play a positive role for climate health
A recent study has found that as animals go extinct, small plants and animals cannot make up for the loss of larger creatures.
NAU researcher Andrew Abraham said that is a big deal considering separate research has suggested that in a few centuries, the cow will be the largest animal on Earth. However, the study also found that protecting these larger creatures, normally across larger areas, is more economically viable and productive for the entire environment.
The study published in Nature Communications showed that these “megabiota” — a term this study created to describe these large plants, and large animals over 100 pounds — are more valuable because the animals tend to spread more nutrients and plants sequester more carbon than smaller plants and animals.
Although the alternative problem is that megabiota are similarly more vulnerable to the shifts caused by climate change.
Chris Doughty, an NAU researcher who worked on the study, said the findings are especially important as people make decisions about what animals receive the limited resources humans have dedicated to conservation work. Locally, living animals like elk and ponderosa pines fit the description of a megabiota.
“We just don’t have the resources to save everything. In an ideal world we’d save anything,” Abraham said. “Inevitability, people donate money into [conservation efforts] and latch onto charismatic species. Whether they’re sequoias, giant redwoods, whether it’s a rhino in Africa, it’s very easy to go for the ones that people understand.”
Within the scope of the study, the researchers found larger animals are important to large ecosystems in part because of their feces.
Abraham used an example saying elephants eat over 600 pounds of vegetation per day. The food provides the animals energy to walk an average of 40 to 50 miles, connecting otherwise distant ecosystems. Through the tons of feces left over its lifetime, the leftover nutrients and seeds that survive its digestion process can lead to a more healthy and nutrient-rich ecosystem.
Researchers found the loss of large animals could lead to a 92% loss of nutrient dispersal and reduce the weight of plants and animals by 44%.
“A world that is connected by these large animals is a bit more vibrant, and promotes more life through this dispersal process that is unique to large animals,” Abraham said.https://azdailysun.com/news/local/study-finds-larger-plants-and-animals-play-a-positive-role/article_405105b9-9290-59ed-8be4-d014528e3ee7.html