Elephants Could Be The “Key” To Saving The Earth

According to new research, rainforest elephants can have “profound” effects on forest ecosystems and could provide a solution to help people fight climate change.

According to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Fabio Berzaghi, lead author of the study and a researcher at the World Maritime University in Sweden, said: “These results reinforce our understanding that if we want nature to help us mitigate climate change, we need complete ecosystems from insects and trees to large animals big.”

The researchers hypothesize that due to how elephants forage and disperse seeds, these animals may contribute significantly to carbon storage in the forest.

To test the hypothesis, the scientists analyzed forest inventory and elephant feeding data from Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo and LuiKotale – near Salonga National Park – in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Based on the data collected, the researchers were able to identify the mechanisms driving elephant foraging behavior and quantify their impact on carbon storage in the forests where they live.

The scientists’ hunch was correct: elephants directly impact carbon storage through their feeding behavior. The scientists drew two main conclusions from their data analysis.

First: elephants like to chew on the leaves of trees with low wood density. These leaves contain more protein and less fiber, making them more palatable to large herbivores.

“I was surprised to find that out of the hundreds of species present in the forest, elephants make deliberate choices about which plants they eat, and this is due to the palatability and nutrition of the leaves,” says Berzaghi. “.

Second: elephants prefer to eat fruit from trees with high wood density due to their high sugar content, eventually leading to elephants planting seeds for these trees.

“Wild elephants are extraordinary seed-dispersing species, able to transport more seeds of more species than any other animal,” the researchers wrote.

In other words: elephants’ picky eating habits directly affect the types of leaves and fruits they eat. These two simple actions result in elephants contributing directly to the survival and spread of denser, more carbon-storing woody trees.

The fact that elephants can help tackle climate change by eating trees may seem counterintuitive. Still, the researchers’ findings explain the link between this seemingly destructive behavior and its positive outcomes for the climate.

In fact: by eating trees with lower densities, elephants minimize overcrowding and promote the growth of more giant trees that eventually “separate” or store more carbon.

“I think linking elephants or other animals to carbon sequestration is not straightforward for most people, but it becomes more intuitive once the mechanism is explained,” says Berzaghi. By helping to store carbon in the forest, elephants prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the leading cause of global warming.

The findings confirm that elephants are “ecosystem engineers” on par with beavers and other creatures that shape their environment through their daily habits. The researchers say they want the forest elephant’s contribution recognized in policy discussions around nature-based solutions to climate change in Africa.

But elephants face growing ᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀs to their survival, from human development to ᴘᴏᴀᴄʜɪɴɢ. The researcher’s message is clear: we must protect elephants by preserving forest biodiversity and averting the climate crisis.

The researchers conclude: “The protection of forest elephants, including concessions and other exploited forests, is a response to mitigating the impact of wildlife on climate change. extremely important after all”.

Berzaghi is part of a group of researchers called “Effecting the Carbon Cycle.”

The group aims to integrate animal conservation into nature-based climate change solutions. The findings suggest that other large herbivores – such as Asian elephants and tapirs – may also contribute to the growth of trees with high carbon storage in their respective forest ecosystems.

“Animals are part of the solution; in the case of elephants, protecting wild elephants would involve protecting the forests of Africa and all the other species within them,” concludes Berzaghi.

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