Getting Connected 5: Herbivores and Carnivores

Maintaining plant diversity is essential in order to maintain animal diversity and maintaining the plant diversity is the sole responsibility of herbivores.

Herbivory, like other types of disturbance, can help maintain species diversity in communities by removing plant species that compete intensively for resources, which allows other competitively inferior species to coexist.

Herbivores are important as they are the first link in connecting the energy locked within plants to the vast number of animals within ecosystems. Herbivory is important in determining the population abundance and dynamics of individual plant species as herbivores often eat or kill whole plants or affect how much a plant can reproduce. Additionally, herbivores often regulate the species composition of plant communities, the total amount of plant biomass in the ecosystems, and the magnitude of ecosystem functional processes such as primary production, decomposition, and transfer of energy and materials up the food chain.

Herbivores, both large and small, help disperse seeds and help fertilize the soil. Ironically, synthetic fertilizers are actually doing more harm than good; they’re a short term solution for a long term problem. It’s kind of like skipping breakfast and then when you realize what a mistake that was and decide to grab a candy bar on your way to work. It satisfies your hunger for a microsecond and you crash. Cow manure and other herbivores, especially large herbivores put nutrients back in the soil. Synthetic fertilizers put some nutrients in the soil, but because it’s composed of basically structured like salt it just soaks up the water. Also, the nutrients in this soil are water soluble, which means that you have to water. The more you water the more minerals are washed away. Microorganisms help decompose organic material (manure or compost) and that is how the soil gets its nutrients. If there is no decomposing material (manure or compost), there is no microorganisms then there is no nutrients. The cycle of needing to provide another nitrogen fix escalates as the soil fertility decreases. Certain lawn diseases worsen in the presence of excess nitrogen. Weeds may start to dominate the lawn, when the grass is thin to start with and the weeds are many. The list of problems that artificial fertilizers create goes on and on.

Carnivores also play extremely important roles. Without them the herbivores would strip the Earth bare of all food sources. The ecosystem would never be balanced without them. Populations of carnivores are often kept in check by other carnivores.

And then there is a controversy about hunting and whether it harms or benefits the ecosystem.

On the one side you have people saying there couldn’t be anything more natural and that it helps keep the ecosystem in check.

And on the other you have others saying that it’s morally wrong and creates an unbalance in the ecosystem.

I remember hearing a while back about the controversy of the damage wolves were doing in national parks in the north.

If I remember correctly, and I’m not totally sure I do but I’ll do the best I can, the problem was that there were too many wolves and they were eating too many deer and cattle and I’m pretty sure that some animal rights activists were involved trying to save poor Bambi.

I think I’ve made it pretty obvious that I love animals. I will also say that I hate death. I understand its necessary and it keeps me from being one of those crazy people who try to disrupt the ecosystem to save Bambi.  More than death, I hate suffering and that usually goes along with death, which makes death harder for me to handle period. But natural death is necessary. It provides nutrients and room for others to live. Even sickness and disease has its place because it weeds out the weak, tells us when there is a problem and is usually a symptom of overcrowding.

Natural death, which I define as how animals in the wild die when they are hunted by another animal or just death from old age, is the only kind of death that I will ever justify.  If people are going to eat meat no matter what then I guess hunting would be the best way, but people hunting is only natural if the humans are on even grounds. That means hunting like a caveman with only a bow and arrow, a spear made from trees in the forest or just your bare hands. Using a gun doesn’t make you natural just a coward. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you shouldn’t eat something if you can’t kill it and I can’t kill.

Gathering a bunch of cows in a pasture and locking them up doesn’t instill a great sense of courage to me either. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about whether vegetarianism is the right way to go. The books say that the animals that today are domesticated chose to become tamed because they understood that when they had a relationship with humans their race would always be protected. Let’s face it, cows, cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, whatever else you can find at a pet store won’t be going extinct anytime soon. A mutual relationship they call it. They say the cow knew what it was giving up when it signed up. It’s been said that cows and chickens have become so domesticated that they couldn’t live without humans. How this happened, I don’t know, but I sure feel sorry for them. But if the whole agreeing to be domesticated idea is something you can believe, which I do, but still I couldn’t kill a cow myself, then I guess it may seem like wolves are the bad guys. But maybe for a second we could look at the people who hunt the deer. Could it be that maybe, just maybe they’re the problem? If people aren’t leaving enough deer for the wolves then what are the wolves supposed to eat? It’s just the thought. I don’t have enough information about the numbers to see if this is a possibility. I do know that after people killed enough wolves that the deer population started to destroy the vegetation. And because it suited us we allowed the wolves to do what wolves do and help curb back the deer population. Could it simply be that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing and we need to let nature do what nature does and stop trying to control it. Could it be that we’re supposed to live with nature and not try to be above it? Could it be that one predator without the other or one prey without the other just doesn’t work? I don’t know. Just some thoughts.


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