Have you ever noticed that sightings of large predators in common places have increased in recent years? If yes, then get used to it as the numbers of sightings of large animals in human territories are going increase sharply in the upcoming years, reveals new study. Some claim that these animal were in search of food or new habitat as their population grew which is why they entered in human territories.
However, the new study has something else to say. As per the study conducted by the authors from the Duke University, large predators including alligators, sea otters, gray wolfs, mountain lions and other animals do not enter common places in search of food or to expand their colony, but they are fighting humans to in order to take back their ecosystem which humans have slowly taken from them in the past.
“We can no longer chock up a large alligator on a beach or coral reef as an aberrant sighting,” said Brian Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “It’s not an outlier or short-term blip. It’s the old norm, the way it used to be before we pushed these species onto their last legs in hard-to-reach refuges. Now, they are returning.”
Scientists found that the effect was same on both — marine and terrestrial species. Both the species are re-colonising their ecosystem which was once their hunting ground.
“The assumption, widely reinforced in both the scientific and popular media, is that these animals live where they live because they are habitat specialists. Alligators love swamps; sea otters do best in saltwater kelp forests; orangutans need undisturbed forests; marine mammals prefer polar waters. But this is based on studies and observations made while these populations were in sharp decline. Now that they are rebounding, they’re surprising us by demonstrating how adaptable and cosmopolitan they really are,” Silliman said.
The study author explained that 90 percent of alligators’ diet is made up of marine animals including stingrays, sharks, shrimps, horseshoe crabs and manatees. All these species live in seagrass and mangrove ecosystems which is why alligators live very well in saltwater habitat. Researchers are now surprised to see unanticipated adaptability of these returning species that also brings up several new conservation opportunities.
“It tells us these species can thrive in a much greater variety of habitats. Sea otters, for instance, can adapt and thrive if we introduce them into estuaries that don’t have kelp forests. So even if kelp forests disappear because of climate change, the otters won’t,” he said. “Maybe they can even live in rivers. We will find out soon enough.”
The study also found that there are several benefits if top predators return back to the lost ecosystem. For example, coming back of sea otters to estuarine seagrass beds can massively help in protecting the beds from the wrath of epiphytic algae as otters eat Dungeness crabs, which otherwise eat too many algae-grazing sea slugs that form the bed’s front line of defense.
“It would cost tens of millions of dollars to protect these beds by re-constructing upstream watersheds with proper nutrient buffers,” Silliman said, “but sea otters are achieving a similar result on their own, at little or no cost to taxpayers.”