Researchers Discover Elephant Extinction Could Have Major Impact on Atmospheric Carbon Levels
In findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Saint Louis University researchers and colleagues report that elephants play a key role in creating forests which store more atmospheric carbon and maintaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa. If the already critically endangered elephants become extinct, rainforest of central and west Africa, the second largest rainforest on earth, would gradually lose between six and nine percent of their ability to capture atmospheric carbon, amplifying planetary warming.
Assistant professor of biology at Saint Louis University and senior author on the paper Stephen Blake, Ph.D., has spent much of his career dedicated to studying elephants. In the current paper, Blake, lead author Fabio Berzaghi at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (France) at the time of the study and colleagues document exactly how the ecology of megaherbivores has such a strong influence on carbon retention in African rainforests.
“Elephants have been hunted by humans for millennia,” Blake said. “As a result, African forest elephants are critically endangered. The argument that everybody loves elephants hasn’t raised sufficient support to stop the killing. Shifting the argument for elephant conservation toward the role forest elephants play in maintaining the biodiversity of the forest, that losing elephants would mean losing forest biodiversity, hasn’t worked either, as numbers continue to fall. We can now add the robust conclusion that if we lose forest elephants, we will be doing a global disservice to climate change mitigation. The importance of forest elephants for climate mitigation must be taken seriously by policy makers to generate the support needed for elephant conservation. The role of forest elephants in our global environment is too important to ignore.”
Elephants play multiple roles in protecting the global environment. Within the forest, some trees have light wood (low carbon density trees) while others make heavy wood (high carbon density trees). Low carbon density trees grow quickly, rising above other plants and trees to get to the sunlight. Meanwhile, high carbon density trees grow slowly, needing less sunlight and able to grow in shade. Elephants and other megaherbivores affect the abundance of these trees by feeding more heavily on the low carbon density trees, which are more palatable and nutritious than the high carbon density species. This “thins” the forest, much like a forester would do to promote growth of their preferred species. This thinning reduces competition among trees and provides more light, space and soil nutrients to help the high carbon trees to flourish.
“Elephants eat lots of leaves from lots of trees, and they do a lot of damage when they eat,” Blake said. “They’ll strip leaves from trees, rip off a whole branch or uproot a sapling when eating, and our data shows most of this damage occurs to low carbon density trees. If there are a lot of high carbon density trees around, that’s one less competitor, eliminated by the elephants.”
Elephants are also excellent dispersers of the seeds of high carbon density trees. These trees often produce large nutritious fruits which elephants eat. Those seeds pass through the elephants’ gut undamaged and when released through dung, they are primed to germinate and grow into some of the largest trees in the forest.
“Elephants are the gardeners of the forest,” Blake said. “They plant the forest with high carbon density trees and they get rid of the ‘weeds,’ which are the low carbon density trees. They do a tremendous amount of work maintaining the diversity of the forest.”
The Latest Updates from Bing News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- 3 reasons why removing grazing animals from Australia’s arid lands for carbon credits is a bad idea
Carbon credits must be scrutinised – and none more so than credits for taking grazing animals off arid rangelands.
- Life lessons from my animal teachers
Around him, the forest resonated with life. Black drongos flitted between tree tops, breaking out into hunting dives.
- Jacket Notes | Eben Venter on his novel ‘Decima’
Sometime during 2019 I held a giant “tietie” bottle with milk-formula for an orphaned rhino calf. Into its amber eyes I looked, and at that point I decided to write a story about the life and times of ...
- Europe was not covered in dense forests before modern humans arrived
The researchers estimate 50-75% of the land contained open or semi-open vegetation. This was likely due to now-extinct megaherbivores like woolly rhinos and mammoths that grazed enormous amounts of ...
- Can Elephants Save the Planet?
In the current paper, Blake, lead author Fabio Berzaghi at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (France) at the time of the study and colleagues document exactly how the ecology of ...
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Five elephants die of dehydration at Hwange National Park as El Nino sweeps across Africa
Extreme temperatures keep rising as El Nino sweeps across the continent with no rain in sight, particularly in Southern Africa. Now five elephants have been reported dead as a result of dehydration in ...
- Assam : Two persons trampled to death by a herd of wild elephants
Amidst the increasing human-elephant conflict in Assam, at least two people were killed in an attack by a herd of wild elephants in Nagaon district of the state, officials said on Wednesday. According ...
- Scientists may have finally figured out how elephants got their incredible trunks
Elephants appear to have evolved their long, grasping trunks as a result of climate change pressures on their ancestors millions of years ago.
- Elephants die as water sources dry up
Newsday Zimbabwe THE ongoing dry spell has taken a heavy toll on wildlife with reports that several animals have succumbed to dehydration as water holes have dried up. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife ...
- Assam: Two persons trampled to death by elephants in Kaliabor
Two persons were trampled to death by a herd of elephants killed in Assam’s Nagaon district. The incident occurred near Hatigaon Salkona Basti in Kaliabor on Tuesday. As per inputs, a herd of wild ...