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

Strategies for Preventing Climate Change Induced Extinction

by Alexander Birk

Climate change is an increasingly problematic obstacle in slowing the rate of species extinction and has been widely accepted as the major threat to biodiversity. With this threat rising, there needs to be a better strategy to protect species. Identifying a species as in danger of extinction is the key to saving them, the current system to detect potential extinctions does not give enough time to effectively save some species once they have been deemed endangered. According to Stanton et al. (2014) it would be much more effective to put species into more specific categories leading up to extinction. This would allow for a more visible pattern of endangerment over the years leading to a trajectory of where the species is headed. Stanton et al. (2014) Continue reading

Protecting Island Biodiversity

by Alexander Birk

Island biodiversity is of paramount importance on a global scale. The islands of the world contain twenty percent of all terrestrial plant and animal species. In addition the rate of endemic species on islands is much greater than on main lands, and island species are facing many threats. Over half of the most recent extinctions on the planet come from species inhabiting islands. In addition one third of all terrestrial species that are currently threatened with extinction are island-dwelling species (Couchamp et al. 2014). Continue reading

Just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change”

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Our newest book, published on May 6, 2015 and available at for $19.95.

The focus of this book is the interactions between energy, ecology, and climate change, as well as a few of the responses of humanity to these interactions. It is not a textbook, but a series of chapters discussing subtopics in which the authors were interested and wished to write about. The basic material is cutting-edge science; technical journal articles published within the last year, selected for their relevance and interest. Each author selected eight or so technical papers representing his or her view of the most interesting current research in the field, and wrote summaries of them in a journalistic style that is free of scientific jargon and understandable by lay readers. This is the sort of science writing that you might encounter in the New York Times, but concentrated in a way intended to give as broad an overview of the chapter topics as possible. None of this research will appear in textbooks for a few years, so there are not many ways that readers without access to a university library can get access to this information.

This book is intended be browsed—choose a chapter topic you like and read the individual sections in any order; each is intended to be largely stand-alone. Reading all of them will give you considerable insight into what climate scientists concerned with energy, ecology, and human effects are up to, and the challenges they face in understanding one of the most disruptive—if not very rapid—event in human history; anthropogenic climate change. The Table of Contents follows: Continue reading

The Endangered Species Act: Conservation-Reliant Species

by Alexander Birk

The United States Endangered Species Act (ESA) is responsible for the protection of species and their habitats. The ESA maintains a list of the species at risk; the ultimate goal is to get these species off of the list. In order to get an endangered species removed (delisted) the ESA must regard that species as self-sustaining. The definition of a self-sustaining species becomes difficult as the ESA looks at conservation-reliant species. A conservation-reliant species is defined as a species that has been delisted; however it requires management in order to prevent it from once again being at risk. Continue reading