Aquatic Predators Can Impact Ecosystems, Research Says

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Aquatic Predators Can Impact Ecosystems, Research Says

Aquatic predators like sharks can influence their ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check/ Photo By Scott Betts via 123RF

 

Naturally, the bad guys eat the little ones in the wildlife. These predators are mostly portrayed as wild and hideous in many books, films, and television series. For instance, in a certain movie where sharks are the main antagonists, it sends a message to the viewers that they should stay away from predators like them because they are harmful. This is why a lot of people are afraid to stay near or approach them.

However, people must understand that these predators are killing animals and even people mainly for consumption or survival. Without their prey, they wouldn't be able to live longer. But, predators are actually one of the world's misunderstood creatures. They play a major role in our ecosystem and keep its balance. Thus, eliminating them in order for preys to survive would mean disrupting the ecosystem itself.

According to an article by Cheetah Conversation Fund, predators help in controlling the size of prey populations, thus, helping to slow down the spread of disease. This is because predators catch both healthy preys and sick or injured ones. This helps in natural selection since those left behind establish a healthier prey population. This leaves them to survive and reproduce.

Predators play a lot of roles in the ecosystem. This benefits not only the animals but also human beings. Even underwater, aquatic predators are significantly valuable. Thus, it's important that human beings acknowledge this to avoid doing activities that may disrupt their survival.

Killing Top Predators Won't Help

Predators are everywhere - on land, in water, and in the air. Although their roles in the ecosystem are extremely significant, they are among the most heavily persecuted animals due to the fact that they attack and kill. Human beings mostly target predators because they are mostly perceived as a threat to human society. However, by doing this, it can cause serious damage to the ecosystem in the long run.

According to an article by Phys.org, without predators such as coyotes, lions, eagles, sharks, and others, ecosystems can become unbalanced in many ways. This is because of herbivores', plants', and small predators' response to their absence. The effects can include an increase in disease, an increase in the number of conflicts between large herbivores, damage in plant species if herbivore populations explode, and many more.

Additionally, a recent review of over 114 studies by researchers Robert Lennox, Austin Gallagher, Euan Ritchie, and Steven Cooke revealed that success in removing predators is rarely achieved. There have only been a few studies showing success in predator removal without harming the predator population. However, these studies are mostly from the Arctic region where there are fewer links in the food web.

Aquatic predators are proven to be important in protecting organisms that store carbon/Photo By Alberto Giacomazzi via 123RF

 

Impact of Aquatic Predators to Society

With that, top predators on land are indeed significant in keeping the ecosystem balanced. But how about underwater? A recent study conducted by a team of leading scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found out that aquatic predators, such as sharks and alligators, can affect ecosystems and benefit human beings.

According to an article by Science Daily, the research shows the importance of ecological processes to our society. In an interview, lead author Neil Hammerschlag said, "Aquatic predators can influence their ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check, controlling the flow of nutrients, preventing the spread of diseases and invasive species, and even creating new habitats for other organisms."

Additionally, aquatic predators are usually sought for several reasons such as scuba diving, sport fishing, and ecotourism which create thousands of jobs for many people. The research also shows how these predators can mitigate the effects of climate change underwater and spark developments for new medicines.

According to Steven Cooke, study co-author and professor at Carleton University, they have identified 16 priority research questions to help future investigations. One of these is understanding how climate change can impact the ecological roles of aquatic predators as well as how they will benefit humans in the future.

The researchers concluded that there should be a framework which involves maximizing the ecosystem functions of aquatic predators in society. At the same time, people should recognize the benefits they offer to humans in a changing environment.

Moreover, aquatic predators are also proven to be important in protecting organisms that store carbon. According to a report from Science News, freshwater ecologist John Richardson of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver stated that their study shows losing predators can cause consequences beyond the loss of biodiversity. "We can see climate effects as well. We start seeing a higher flux of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," he said.

The researchers reported that there has been an average of 93% of carbon dioxide due to the existence of top predators underwater. However, it has also been revealed that unchecked zooplankton populations aggressively feed on algae and plants. This study shows the complexity of natural environments and why human beings shouldn't disrupt them.

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