Plants and animals thrive in natural habitats where each organism has a specific role to play and is, in turn, nurtured by other elements of the ecosystem. Thus, animals and trees are interdependent. The 3rd of March is celebrated as UN World Wildlife Day to raise awareness about the preservation and welfare of all living organisms. Coincidentally, this year’s theme highlighted the role of wild animals and plant species in nature’s rich biodiversity.
Though much is said about the importance of trees and their responsibility of providing natural habitat and food for animals, the wildlife repays the favour by carrying out the essential tasks of conservation and regeneration. Let us examine closely how exactly wildlife supports trees and forests.
1] Wildlife help in the dispersal of seeds
Trees, being stationary, depend on animals for the dispersal of their seeds. Some seeds attach to the fur of animals and are transported from place to place as the animals move. In Southeast Asia, orangutans eat fruits and expel the seeds in their faecal droppings. The faecal matter provides a warm and moist environment for the successful germination of seeds, leading to the growth of various trees.
2] Birds protect trees from insects
Trees can survive for centuries by deepening their roots, growing wide branches and storing large amounts of carbon. They are, however, vulnerable to insects that eat their barks, threatening to destroy them. Birds step in as handy saviours by eating these insects. This symbiotic relationship acts as a win-win situation.
3] Wildlife limits the tree population
While this may sound counterproductive, animals eating trees can be a blessing in disguise. Giraffes eat thinner, fast-growing trees to make way for denser trees to grow and flourish that can store massive amounts of carbon. The larger animals, such as elephants, can be tasked with eating an entire tree as well.
4] Wildlife protect trees from herbivores
Large predators play a vital role in the protection of the ecosystem by preserving trees from voracious herbivores. The Yellowstone Park case study serves as an excellent example of this.
Predator wolves had disappeared completely from Yellowstone Park by 1920 on account of aggressive hunting. However, this had an adverse effect on the entire ecosystem. For nearly 70 years, elks herds increased in number and consumed all the aspens, willows and cottonwoods. As a result, vegetation declined and many species of wildlife left the area in search of greener pastures. After much debate and controversy, it was decided that wolves would be reintroduced to the park. This kept the elks at bay, the trees along the streams recovered and this slowed down the flow of water. Other animals returned and the park flourished. This case study shows how a pack of wolves succeeded in restoring the balance of the ecosystem.