Mother Nature has figured it out. She designed a master plan that connects plants and animals, all of which work in harmony to keep all living things in balance. Imagine a stack of dominoes – knock one of them down, and the rest will fall. The same thing can happen in nature.
This is especially evident in places like Central Africa and in the rainforests of South America, where many animals – from the world’s largest to the smallest – help keep trees safe and healthy, this is important as trees absorb large amounts of planet-warming carbon pollution.
Recent research warns that the loss of the creatures that feed the trees will put forests at risk. This, in general, is helping to accelerate dangerous climate change.
In Central Africa, for example, elephants eat fast-growing trees, giving way to slower-growing ones. With very dense layers of wood, slow-growing trees store more carbon than thinner, faster-growing trees.
A new study uses computer models to predict what might happen if elephant populations continue to decline or become extinct.
“Africa may have once hosted 10 million elephants from the Mediterranean to the Cape, in every habitat except the extreme desert. In 1970, maybe a million were left.
By the end of the 1980s, there was already half that number, most of them ki.ll.ed for the ivory trade,” said Stephen Blake, assistant professor of biology at St. Louis University, and author of the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Despite the international agreement created to protect them, they face extinction as hunters continue to illegally ki.l.l them for their ivory. Blake said the price of ivory is so high that po.ac.hers will k.i.ll elephants of any size for their tusks and take elephants to gruesome lengths to remove them.
“How many cuddly [elephant] toys will be bought around the world this Christmas?” Blake said. “Children everywhere will take them to bed, play with them, love them, and be enchanted with these giant, gentle, humble, wrinkled and old animals…
How many hearts are touched?… However, as we do all of this, we are living at a time when the last members of a once global and diverse lineage of these giant animals are being sla.ug.ht.ered. ”
By ki.l.ling elephants, po.ac.hers rob their guardians’ slow-growing trees. They also slow the growth of new trees. Elephants burn trails and scatter seeds as they forage. “Elephants are basically gardeners in the woods,” says Blake. “They disperse more than 100 species of seeds and disperse more seeds over longer distances than other dispersants.”
He added: “Without the regenerative power of elephants, the forest becomes a faint shadow of its former glory.
Likewise, some of the world’s smallest creatures also help replenish forests, although they don’t face the serious risks that elephants face.
Tiny tamarins living in the Peruvian rainforest eat fruit, then split into indigestible seeds on old degraded grasslands – man-made land cleared to graze water buffalo – plant trees effectively.
Scientists have shown that these two types of squirrel-sized monkeys – mustached and black-fronted tamarins – are seeding new forests. This is important because – like the forests of Central Africa – tropical rainforests also store carbon and are home to a large number of plant and animal species.
Scientists tracked seeds from animal droppings deposited in the new forest and identified eight different species of plants found in the primary rainforest. Eckhard W. Heymann, a scientist at the German Primate Center, who reported his findings in the journal Scientific Reports, said: “Tamarins may play a role in the natural regeneration of affected areas.
However, their contribution, while important, is often not sufficient to regenerate large regions. “So it’s better to protect the forests – also to protect the animals living there – than to rely on the services [of tamarins].” Furthermore, climate change is likely to change the plants that tamarins eat, changing when they produce leaves, flowers, and fruits. This may limit tamarin’s ability to seed new forests.