Who are the ecosystem engineers?

Some animals impact their surroundings drastically. Not only can they impact the presence of other animals, they can literally shape landscapes. One well-known ecosystem engineer is the beaver. By building its dams, it creates flooded areas. These areas become home for a totally different range of plants and animals. But predators are also ecosystem engineers, as researchers found out when studying the American puma in Yellowstone.

Predator left overs

Ecosystem engineers regulate the availability of resources for other species through their presence. One of the recent studies looked into the role of pumas in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The puma is there a top predator. The pumas leave carcass left-overs behind, which provide resources for many other scavengers. However, also a wide variety of beetles makes use of the carrion. The scientists discovered that a stunning number of 215 different beetle species appeared on 18 different carcasses over a 5-month period. Eight different beetle families were even significantly higher in abundance at the carcasses, compared to control sites.

Other ecosystem engineers are for example the Arctic fox, whose presence lead to increased soil nutrient levels. As a result, the plants around fox dens grow better, leading to denser vegetation. Another ecosystem engineer is the wolf. The presence of wolves changes the behaviour of its prey, mainly herbivores like deer. The changed behaviour of deer impacts the vegetation where they graze. This in turn affects the landscape dynamics. But just as the puma, the wolf also leaves behind carcasses. We can thus expect that carrion-beetles in Europe also benefit from the return of the wolf. Further research will have to study this potential correlation to get a better understanding of the ecological impact of wolves in Europe.

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One thought on “Who are the ecosystem engineers?

  1. Bark beetles such as Ips sp. in Europe could also be viewed as ecosystem engineers in spruce forrests.

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