September 29, 2014

Why wolves are good for wilderness

Why wolves are good for wilderness

Ecological Keystones

Everyone is interested in the wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone, wildlife though isn’t
just a cool tourist attraction, it is often a political football.  Wildlife affects the farmer and rancher on the periphery of Yellowstone differently than it does the visitor so excited
to see a wolf they can hardly hold their camera still. Understanding ecological
keystones is important because these hinge-pins of circumstance are harbingers of
subsequent biological destiny of an ecosystem. Understanding fosters reason!

A keystone species is a plant or animal that greatly effects the other plants and animals of the ecosystem, and sometimes the geography, disproportionately relative to its abundance or total biomass. They play a crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions and are a key to ecosystem balance.

The original meaning of  “keystone” came from the wedge-shaped stone placed at the top of a masonry vault or arch,
the final piece placed during construction that locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight. The term “keystone” has evolved into a demonstrative metaphor into the lexicon of sustainability of ecosystems without which the ecologic structure would erode and lead to possible collapse.

The wolf is such a keystone as is the grizzly as well as the Beaver. All these species have experienced wide variance of populations as we humans interfered and now with our elementary, but growing understanding of ecosystems try to
undue what we have done. Other Greater Yellowstone Keystones include cutthroat
trout, Whitebark Pine.

A classic keystone species is a predator that prevents a herbivorous critter from
eliminating dominant plant species. Without predators herbivorous prey would
explode in numbers, wipe out the dominant plants, and dramatically alter the
character of the ecosystem. A keystone species is often, but not always, a
predator, for instance the lowly krill, a keystone species in the Antarctic
ecosystem. Krill are only two inches in length, but it represents a giant-sized
link in the global food chain. These small, shrimp-like crustaceans are essentially the fuel that runs the engine of the Earth’s marine ecosystems; hence, a keystone.

Natural ecologic communities are can be seen as a pyramid, the different layers are
known as “trophic” (or feeding) levels, plants form the foundation everything
from algae to trees. This foundation of grasses, forbs etc. feeds the vegetarian species ranging from voles to elk. Carnivores, raptors, grizzlies, wolves etc. then prey on the herbivores. Predators have few or no predators they remain at the pyramid’s peak.

Keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological
pyramid, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species of the ecological

The disappearance of a keystone species would start a domino effect, or more
specifically a “trophic cascade”Ó trophic cascade is a destabilization of the
ecosystem and a compromised ecosystem can cause a series of secondary
extinctions that are triggered by the primary extinction; i.e., the first
domino. Without the keystone species, new plants or animals could also come
into the habitat and push out the native species. Without keystone species, the
ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist.

Keystone species, because of their proportionately large influence on species diversity,
community structure, and ecologic balance, have become a popular target for
conservation efforts. The reasoning is sound: protect one, key species, and in
doing so stabilize an entire community.

Daryl L. Hunter, author of "The Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide"

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