A team from Stanford University have released a report that states ecological chains worldwide are being damaged by human influence. Mankind’s impact on the natural world is a subject of constant debate and controversy. While there are those that believe we are fundamental in destroying the world around us, others believe the planet and survive and adapt to anything we do to it. But this recent study, conducted in a remote area of the Pacific, found that our interventions in nature lead to significant losses of population in different ecosystems.

endangered coral species, cryo freezing coral, australian institute of marine science, freezing coral samples, coral egg and sperm, environment, conservation, great Barrier reef, reef pollution, rising sea temperatures, great barrier reef coral, Palmyra Atoll ecochains, Palmyra Atoll ecosystems, Palmyra Atoll, Palmyra Atoll stanford, stanford university ecochains, stanford ecosystems, Palmyra Atoll manta rays

The research was conducted in the remote Palmyra Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean. The area’s natural wonders are only just being documented and has been useful to environmental scientists because it is populated by relatively untouched ecosystems.

The team found that by simply replacing native trees with non-native palms, there was a massive knock-on effect for the local seabird, plankton, and manta ray populations. What is more disturbing is that the findings were almost accidental as the team was mainly there to study manta rays.

During their studies, they noticed that the manta rays kept returning to the coastlines of certain islands where another researcher was doing a study on the effects that non-native palm trees had on seabird communities and native habitats. It soon became clear to the two teams that their individual studies were overlapping. “As the frequencies of these different conversations mixed together, the picture of what was actually happening out there took form in front of us,” Douglas McCauley, one of the researchers, and a graduate student from Stanford University said.

The teams noticed that the non-native palms put off roosting seabirds by a factor of five due to their easily wind-swayed canopies. As a result, there were few bird droppings to fertilize the soil below, fewer nutrients washing into surrounding waters, smaller and fewer plankton in the water and fewer hungry manta rays cruising the coastline.

“This is an incredible cascade,” said researcher Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of environmental science at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “As an ecologist, I am worried about the extinction of ecological processes. This dramatically illustrates the significance of such extinctions.”

What was worrying was that the discovery was purely an accident and such ecochain connections do not leave any trace behind. McCauley put it another way: “What we are doing in some ecosystems is akin to popping the hood on a car and disconnecting a few wires and rerouting a few hoses. All the parts are still there – the engine looks largely the same – but it’s anyone’s guess as to how or if the car will run.”

Dunbar noted that man had already had a devastating impact in the past when they put increasing demands on water from Central California’s rivers. When salmon running in these rivers slowed from millions of fish each year to a trickle, natural and agricultural land systems lost an important source of marine-derived fertilizer. These lost subsidies from the sea are now replaced by millions of dollars’ worth of artificial fertilizer applications.

The research has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports

+ Stanford University

via Planet Save

Images: USFWS Headquarters