In a new study, researchers found that in freshwater ecosystems, top level predators play an important role in slowing carbon emissions.
"We knew that predators shaped ecosystems by affecting the abundance of other plants and animals but now we know that their impact extends all the way down to the biogeochemical level," says Trisha Atwood, a PhD candidate in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences in the Faculty of Forestry at University of British Columbia, in a PhysOrg article.
The team's work, published in Nature Geoscience, involved seeing what happens when predators disappear from an ecosystem beyond the increase in species lower on the food chain. They removed all the predators from three controlled freshwater ecosystems, and found that 93% more carbon dioxide was released. While some rise might be expected, a rise of that amount is surprising.
Though it is well documented that predators play vital roles in maintaining the balance of flora and fauna, but the news of just what that means for carbon emissions is surprising. "We found substantially reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the presence of predators in all systems, despite differences in predator type, hydrology, climatic region, ecological zone and level of in situ primary production," states the paper.
It's a new and fascinating way to look at conservation of predator species in at least freshwater ecosystems, and more than likely other ecosystems as well.