The Role of Scavengers in Ecosystems

by Alexander Birk

Vultures act as great scavengers for many different ecosystems. Scavengers are well known for preying on the dead carcasses in their habitat. Vultures, as described by Campbell, are the epitome of natural scavengers. Scavenging is a very difficult way of life and many animals cannot do it successfully. The vulture is the perfect fit for a very specific niche as a scavenger in their ecosystem. Even though the various vulture species are successful scavengers, the exposure to anthropogenic affects may prove to be detrimental to the species’ survival. Campbell (2014)

Vultures prove to be valuable assets to their ecosystems. Consuming dead carcasses is primarily helpful because it decreases the amount of disease. A vulture’s strong digestive system can handle rotting carcasses. If left alone, these carcasses may cause a widespread epidemic among a species. Vultures do not hunt, or eat live prey, therefor they dominate the scavenger niche in their ecosystem.

According to Campbell vulture populations have experienced significant anthropogenic affects. Prior to humans, many large herds of animals led to plentiful food supply for scavenging species. Today those plentiful herds have been replaced with things like road kill, medicated livestock, and overall less food for vultures. The common veterinary drug diclofenac, often used for keeping healthy livestock, has been found to be extremely deadly to vultures. In addition the chemical substances found on road kill have proven to be harmful to vultures as well.

Campbell refers to vultures as permanent scavengers and their presence in an ecosystem does not allow for other temporary scavenging species to thrive because the other scavenging species are not as fit for the niche as vultures. If vultures are not present, the ecosystem lacks the full benefits that the scavengers offer. With various species of vultures heading towards endangerment, the value of their presence is becoming more apparent. While humans may not see the species as valuable, they hold an irreplaceable role in their ecosystems.

Many vulture species around the world have become endangered. Mostly due to anthropogenic affects, either dying off from human-introduced chemicals or starving from humans removing their food source. Vultures are crucially important in many ecosystems, but most people think of them as dirty pests. Without vultures the biodiversity of many ecosystems may be in danger.

Michael O Campbell. 2014. A fascinating example of convergent evolution: endangered vultures. Biodiversity & Endangered Species. doi: 10.4172/2332-2543.1000132

http://esciencecentral.org/journals/a-fascinating-example-for-convergent-evolution-endangered-vultures-2332-2543-1-132.pdf

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