Forget spiders, black cats and bats. The scariest thing in nature?
Fear is natural. Fear is good. In the wild, fear keeps animals alive. It sounds strange, but it’s actually fear that keeps ecosystems in balance.
It’s the ‘trophic cascade effect’. Take an apex predator like the wolf, at the top of the food chain. The wolf’s presence keeps deer ‘on their toes’. Instead of standing in one spot grazing vegetation down to the ground, they are wary, stopping only briefly, constantly on the move. So plant life proliferates and in doing so provides habitat and food for the smaller animals.
To find out how astounding this is in bringing about an explosion of life, both plant and animal, watch this beautiful short video about wolves in Yellowstone. It will gladden your heart.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that a horrifying 75% of apex predators, the large carnivores such as wolves, bears and big cats, are in decline. And as the Living Planet Report tells us, it is all down to us humans. We are driving plants and animals extinct at 1,000 times the natural background rate.
But take away the apex predators, and biodiversity rapidly declines.
Western University decided to test whether we humans could take the place of the missing big beasts as ‘the monster-in-the-woods’, and provide that vital fear factor to keep ecosystems healthy.
Their findings were not good. For a start, human hunters kill four times as many smaller carnivores as do the nonhuman predators. That in itself throws the ecosystem out of kilter.
And, it turned out that we are just too darn scary. So frightening, in fact, as to induce “paralysing terror” in the badgers tested on in the research. Having the sounds of large carnivores played to them naturally did put the badgers on their guard, and they made fewer trips to their usual foraging spots. But when the sound of people talking was played, only a handful of the bravest ventured out at all, and the time they spent feeding was dramatically reduced. Most of the badgers decided the safest option was to keep their heads down, stay at home and not go out to feed at all.
So to the smaller animals, we are more to be feared than wolves and bears. Some kudos! We humans, the scariest creature on the planet.
We are not just messing up ecosystems by causing the decline in apex predator populations. It seems we are directly affecting the behaviour of the remaining animals in those habitats. The researchers concluded that “Humans may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.”
When you consider that at least 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface is directly affected by the presence of humans and human activity in one way or another, this research is incredibly bad news for the remaining 17% that’s left for the animals.
Controlling the growth of the human population is going to be vital in reducing our impact, it goes without saying. But if we as individuals want to help give our fellow earth-dwellers, the nonhumans, a bit more space to live than that pitiful 17%, if we want them to survive at all, we can make a difference by taking animal products off our plate, and out of our lives. We must.
Wishing you a ton of fun this Hallowe’en – dress up, spook your neighbours!
And then November 1st – time for us to make Planet Earth a whole lot less scary for the animals. November is World Vegan Month, the perfect time for us humans to start reducing our heavy footprint on the planet.
To make space for the animals.
Cute & Creepy Animal-Friendly Hallowe’en Recipes here
Help to Go Vegan here
The Real Monster in the Woods – The Medium