SciSun: Getting the Bite on Climate   Leave a comment

It’s been hot lately. Really, REALLY, hot. Many experts believe the entire Earth is getting warmer, every year, due to chemicals, waste and by-products humans are putting into the environment; others say the heat wave (and corresponding harsh winters) are just natural patterns and in time everything will go back to ‘normal’. (Some scientists think patterns of extreme heat and cold are the real ‘normal’, and the moderate weather we’ve enjoyed is really the exception. Better stock up on that sunscreen!). But no matter what is affecting Earths’ climate, there’s a ton of atmospheric and environmental research going on; questions are being asked that haven’t before been considered; and some little-known results are coming forward.

In recent studies, scientists at both Yale University and the University of British Columbia have reported very similar results from two very different experiments measuring the amount of CO2 – Carbon Dioxide – based upon the amount and activity of predators and prey. In aquatic environments – lakes, rivers and streams – when the scientists removed as many of the predators as possible – generally little fish like the Threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) – the numbers of prey species quickly rose (well, no one was eating them!) – but along with the increasing number of prey, the amount of CO2 in the environment also increased, up to ten times the normal amount. In a similar experiment with spiders (predator) and grasshoppers (prey), similar results were found on land (terrestrial) systems. In all systems, plants hold carbon in their roots, leaves and other structures; and animals release carbon through daily activities. So if there are less predators eating fewer prey, that means there are more prey eating more plants, and more carbon is moving from plant storage, into animal use. (No one’s explained why mice and deer aren’t considered predators of plants. Maybe grass has nightmares of being chased by hungry cows?)

It takes some getting used to, but Red, the fox, thought he'd help reduce carbon by going vegan.

It takes some getting used to, but Red, the fox, thought he’d help reduce carbon by going vegan.

CO2 is considered the most significant contributor to the Greenhouse Effect,; basically, heat that’s trapped in the atmosphere. Under usual conditions, this heat energy (mostly from the sun but also heat that’s generated on the surface of the Earth) gradually dissipates if it’s not replenished. But excess chemicals like CO2 act as reflectors, focusing heat back to the surface, until summer temperatures are much hotter; and forcing extreme Arctic weather patterns further south in the winter.

We’re not saying bears and wolves should be allowed to run loose on the sidewalks (although if they did, it would probably make people pay more attention to wildlife!); but it does make us think that all the current pressures humans are putting on predators might be short-sighted. Trapping wolves and catching sharks and hunting other ‘dangerous’ animals might make some people believe they’re helping keep things safe, while all the time CO2 levels are rising, the climate is changing, winter is harsh and summer is really, really hot. For decades scientists have known the balance between predator and prey can effect entire ecosystems; but now, it seems even the smallest change can lead to the most dramatic results. In trying to protect humans from a predator’s sharp teeth, we might be heading into the biggest bite of all.


Michonne Says: If predators went away it wouldn’t bother me. Predators are dangerous and scary and bad news. That’s all I have to say about that because it’s hot and I want to go sit in the shade.

Posted July 7, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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