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See How Wolves Can Change An Entire Ecosystem

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This short video illustrates the natural balance between flora and fauna more eloquently than you might have seen before.

Between 1995 and 1996, a total of 31 gray wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park as part of a reintroduction project, hoping to bolster their population and restore their position in the park’s ecosystem. The project was a success – By 2009, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list, and the wolf population in Yellowstone rose from just 21 in 1995 to 98 by 2011. In that eleven year span, annual populations even managed to peak one year at 174.

Of course the wolves had some effect on the wildlife in Yellowstone, but the lasting effects of their reintroduction are more far-reaching than you might have thought. In the past 19 years, a trophic cascade has occurred, causing the entire shape of the park to change over time:

Not only did the wolves prey on the park’s over-abundant elk population (Not deer, as stated in the video above), but by hunting and scaring off prey from grazing in certain areas, vegetation began to grow back, which in turn helped smaller animal populations grow. Beavers returned in response to the rise in tree growth and built dams in the rivers, creating new habitats for ducks, fish and even more species. The domino effect has been so massive that it’s begun to make long-lasting changes to Yellowstone’s actual lanscape.

“The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers. They began to meander less. There was less erosion. The channels narrowed. More pools formed. More riffle sections. All of which were great for wildlife habitats. The rivers changed in response to the wolves. And the reason was that the regenerating forests stabilized the banks so that they collapsed less often. So the rivers became more fixed in their course.

Similarly, by driving the deer out of some places, and the vegitation recovering on the valley side, there was less soil erosion because the vegitation stabilized that as well. So the wolves, small in number, transformed not just the ecosystem of the Yellowstone National Park – This huge area of land… but also, its physical geography.”

The video, posted by Sustainable Man, uses audio from writer George Monbiot’s TED Talk, in which he makes a strong argument for the restoration of natural food chains that have been broken down in the process of human industrialization. It’s a powerful explanation of a single species’s role in its surrounding environment.


Image: Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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