Elephants, the largest land mammal, play a very important role in maintaining and balancing the ecosystem. Elephants are therefore considered a keystone species. A keystone species is an animal (or organism) that helps define an entire ecosystem. Without keystone species, ecosystems would suffer and/or not exist.
How do elephants contribute to the ecosystem?
During droughts, elephants dig small waterholes. When water becomes scarce, elephants dig small waterholes to access underground water. They dig holes in the ground with their feet and trunks to get to the water. These watering holes are then available to elephants as well as smaller animals that may not have had access to water during droughts.
Elephants are seed carriers. Elephants disperse seeds in their dung as they travel to different areas. This promotes new plant growth because seeds are dispersed metres away from where the plant was first eaten. Elephant dung is high in nutrients, making it an excellent fertiliser. Seeds can germinate and grow as a result of this. Seed dispersal promotes new plant growth, which eventually leads to the creation of new habitats and food for other species.
Elephant dung also provides food for dung beetles. Dung beetles lay their eggs in dung balls. The beetles lay their eggs in these balls and then bury them in the ground, where their larvae feed and grow. As a positive flow-on effect, when dung beetles bury their balls they loosen the tightly packed soil. This allows for plants to grow.
When mice and honey badgers feed on the submerged beetle larvae, the cycle continues. Elephants not only help the dung beetle population survive, but they also help other species like the honey badger survive.
Many people do not consider the dung beetle an important part of the ecosystem. But, they are also a critical component of the ecosystem. The absence of dung beetles would ble noticeable if they did not have their food supply from elephants and other wildlife.
Elephants are destructive in a positive way
Not much can stop an elephant, and we often think of them as destructive creatures when they break down branches and knock down trees. On the other hand, this “destructive” nature is critical for the environment and other species. Smaller animals may not have been able to access the trees and branches that they push over, so this helps to ensure that smaller wildlife has access to food. When elephants push over trees to feed, they create habitat for other animals. These fallen trees create habitats for species such as lizards and spiders, allowing smaller species to co-exist.
When elephants trample over vegetation and push over trees, they create clearings that allows more sunlight to reach the ground, allowing low-lying plants to grow and thrive. This also preserves grassy plains, providing grass to animals like antelope, zebra, and buffalo.