According to a recent study, animals have played a much larger part in moving nutrients around the world that previously thought. At least, they did. For years, scientists have assumed that plants and microbes are responsible of making sure that there are enough nutrients in soil to keep plants growing. But now we’re finding that animals enriched the soil by wandering around and pooping.
Take the blue whale, for example. They eat deep below, but go to the bathroom near the surface, which releases a lot of phosphorus into the water. That phosphorus, an essential nutrient for many plants, eventually makes its way to land. Birds and fish helped as well. Before humans came along, megafauna, huge animals like mammoths, dominated the earth and spread nutrients everywhere they went.
Now, according to that same study, animals are responsible for moving about 6% of the nutrients that they used to. The end of the last ice age, and the rise of humans had a lot to do with that. Raising animals like cows doesn’t really do much to offset it because they’re mostly penned in and don’t move about much. So basically the earth is way less nutrient rich than it once was, and it’s getting worse.
And if there were, say, more blue whales helping the water stay more nutrient-rich, the oceans would actually have more capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. More whale poop means less greenhouse gasses. More nutrient rich soil also means more plants in general, which would also reduce the effects of global warming, by taking in more carbon dioxide.
It’s not all bad though, because whale populations are making a come back. And with help, large herds of bison or other animals might be able to return and help spread around the nutrients the world so desperately needs. Saving endangered species could help save us, as well.