These animals are the main allies against global warming, pollution and their consequences

Many wild species provide great ecological services. explains why protecting them is important to protect humanity.

In 2022, COP 27 on climate change and COP 15 on biodiversity took place one month apart. The telescope of these two events has allowed us to highlight the extent to which the climate and biodiversity crises are interdependent. In fact, tackling climate change without conserving already depleted biodiversity would be counterproductive, as the rest of the animal kingdom (and plant kingdom) is essential to protecting the planet from all pollution. These benefits that ecosystems provide are called ‘ecosystem services’. In this regard, all species – from the smallest to the largest – are useful, and some provide us with invaluable services.

Beaver, protector of rivers and forests

Thus, “engineered species” are defined by their ability to change the environment, often making it more sustainable. The most famous is probably the beaver. Its specialized diet—it eats the trunks and branches of certain trees—and its generally semi-aquatic existence make it the only species other than humans to build dams and dykes.

In doing so, it creates or protects wetlands, which are carbon sinks and reduce global warming. In summer, it holds water in streams, which limits the impact of fires. It helps to maintain the level of underground water. It also allows limiting flood damage through its canals and dams (carrying water away from human settlements earlier). By opening up forest cover, it also encourages greater biodiversity where it exists. Unfortunately, it is sometimes considered a “pest” because of the potential damage it can cause to plants (especially intensive ones) or exploited forests.

However, it almost disappeared in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, but is fully recovering thanks to reintroduction (in 2020 there were about 14,000 individuals in France). A protected species, it remains fragile in Europe due to its low genetic diversity, which makes it vulnerable to various diseases.

Earthworms, soil protector

Another type of engineer is the earthworm, which is just as important (the name actually refers to several types). A well-known ally of gardeners, this famous earthworm, thanks to its diet, changes its environment, making it more resistant to all kinds of pollution. It feeds on organic substances present in the soil or on its surface (depending on the species). Thus, it allows for aeration of the soil, an increase in the amount of organic matter that plants are fed (which contributes to their growth and productivity for agriculture), and an increase in soil hydration. It even reduces the effects of pollution by dispersing pollutants from the soil. A very common animal, a variety of earthworms has been in decline for several years: threatened by pesticide-sensitive, invasive species… awareness of its importance must go hand in hand with a relatively new strategy to support it. It is also a “bioindicator” species, meaning that its presence and population health in a given location is a good indicator of soil contamination (especially with certain pesticides).

Sharks, soldiers of seagrass beds

Less direct, but just as important, is the contribution of sharks. While this super predator of the oceans is known for its carnivorous abilities, it also plays a key role in ocean ecosystems. In addition to its position at the top of the food chain, which gives it an important function as a regulator of other species, a study found that it protects seagrass beds by scaring away herbivores, helping to sustain them under certain conditions. However, seagrass beds are carbon sinks, and with the unexpected benefit of having sharks, they will also be allies in the fight against global warming (since the oceans are known to capture about 30% of atmospheric carbon as a result of human activity, this contribution is important).

Whales, ocean carbon sinks

Large cetacean species (blue whales, fin whales, etc.) also provide large ecosystem services through mortality. As everyone knows, whales are huge animals. When they die, in most cases, their bodies, which are denser than water, sink to the bottom of the ocean until they reach the bottom. In this environment where food sources are scarce, these remains of whales allow entire ecosystems to exist, thus preserving biodiversity that would otherwise struggle without them. First of all, this phenomenon is very significantly involved in the so-called “ocean carbon pump”, where carbon accumulates in the ocean and is therefore not released into the atmosphere. Indeed, whales feed mainly on krill, which feed on phytoplankton (roughly microscopic plants). These phytoplankton absorb CO2 to produce oxygen through photosynthesis. Therefore, whales are especially loaded with carbon when they die. It dissolves in water below – 20° (and therefore does not enter the atmosphere, it is “stored”). Because the temperature is too low in the abyss, the carbon stored by the whales during their lifetime does not reach the atmosphere. Whales are therefore a kind of “carbon” sink, and the amounts stored are significant.

These four examples, far from being exhaustive, demonstrate that many species play an important role in mitigating the effects of human activities. Like others, the listed species are threatened to varying degrees. However, protecting them is also protecting humanity.

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