In a recent blog on vultures we discussed the importance of their existence and how it has a positive impact on the ecosystem. We also discussed the fact that there are many vultures on the endangered species list and how their extinction could drastically affect the environment and well-being of other species. Although wildlife management typically concerns itself with the protection of wildlife, an important area to look at is overpopulation. An over population of a species can have just as big of an impact as not having enough, which is why balance is so important.
Overpopulation tends to occur when an ecosystem is unable to support existing wildlife. Animals wander into unnatural habitats in search of food, often dying of starvation or killed on roads and highways. The loss of carnivores, for example, might undermine the balance achieved by the predator-prey relationship, increasing herbivore populations which compete over diminishing plant life. According to the Humane Society the overpopulation of deer, not only causes tens of thousands of vehicle collisions every year, but is also destroying forests by hindering the diversity of species. This is similar to the situation that occurred with the overpopulation of elk in the Yellowstone National Forrest.
When animals leave one habitat for another, the non-native animals have advantages over native ones
because predators ignore them. The lack of natural predators or abundant resources causes a population boom that destroys the environment. This happened in Australia when rabbits, introduced by Europeans, quickly bred out of control and damaged crops.
Sometimes when overpopulation occurs, other animals have been introduced by humans with hopes to correct the imbalance. But on many occasions, the introduction of a non-native species has done more harm than good. Asian Carps were imported to the Mississippi River to skim algae from aquaculture ponds, but they quickly migrated throughout the river, depleting plankton and driving out other species. The Asian Mongoose was introduced in Hawaii to help control the rat population but quickly drove the native bird population to the verge of extinction.
Although coyotes are native to North America, human habitats have proved inviting, causing millions in loss of livestock, especially sheep and lambs. Despite efforts to control the coyote population, increased land development means increased human interaction.
As you can see, balance plays an important role in the development of habitats. Too much or too little of a species can tip the scales in every direction and disrupt the ecosystem. If you’d like to read more about other species and their impact on nature, look at some of our other blogs like The Ripple Effect, Vultures and many others.