Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

The Role of Elephants on Earth, the Dying Planet

Aug 06, 2019 05:47 AM EDT

(Photo : Pixabay)

Elephants are one of most loved animals here on earth. Aside from their amazing characteristics like eating hundreds of species of fruits, they are undeniably essential in the environment specifically in climate change. The animals play an important role in lowering the amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. Biologists from Saint Louis University found that the population of elephants in central Africa forest encourage the growing trees with high wood density than the fast growing ones (which they most consume).

The forest elephants are said to fed on fast growing trees which causes high damage and mortality to the it compared with the slow growing trees (which has high wood density). The researchers observed that the depletion in the population of the elephants is a major dilemma in combating the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The decreasing number of the animals will cause the abundance of fast growing tree species and lead to lower the ability of the forest to capture carbon, according to Phys.

Assistant professor of biology Stephen Blake, spent his 17 years in central Africa doing the research and conservation work with elephants. He collected data set on forest structure and species composition in the Nouabalé-Ndoki Forest of northern Congo. With the use of his collaborators' developed mathematical computer they were able to know the consequence that might happen in the composition of the forest over time with and without the elephants.

In their study, they simulated elephant damage through browsing in the forest and certain plant species at different rates. The results showed that as elephants consume fast growing species, it leads to damage and knock off a limb or a shrub. Using the mathematical computer, they are able to calculate the feeding and breakages rate along with elephant mortality rates.

"Lo and behold, as we look at the numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high density wood is higher in forest with elephants," said Blake.

"The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren't eaten by the elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it. Slow growing high wood density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast growing low wood density species. As the elephants thin the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon," Blake explained.

The results only indicate that severe ecological consequences are to be faced when the elephants become extinct. The ability of the forest to lower the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will be surely affected. Without the animals, a small amount of carbon will be removed.

"The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost," Blake expounded.

"Elephants are a flagship species. People love elephants- we spend millions, every year on cuddly toys, they are zoo favorites and who didn't cry during Dumbo? And yet we're pushing them closer to extinction every day. On one hand, we admire them and feel empathy and are horrified when they are murdered, and on the other hand, we're not prepared to do anything serious about it. The consequences may be severe for us all. We need to change our ways," Blake added. 

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