Photo: Wikipedia, GFDL
"Birds, bats and lizards act as one big vacuum cleaner up in the treetops."
Apparently, the middle of the food pyramid (insect-eating birds, bats and lizards) is even more important for trees and plants than we thought. So far, the theory was that the effects of insect-eaters on plants would be weak, because "animals like birds not only feed on herbivores - which is good for the plants- but may also benefit them by feeding spiders and predatory insects." According to a new study, it turns out not to be the case; "birds, bats and lizards act as one big vacuum cleaner up in the treetops. Everything's on the menu."
Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain
This means that these middle-predators more than compensate for their eating of the smaller predators by eating vast quantities of small herbivores and pests.
The authors reviewed more than 100 studies of insect predation by birds, bats or lizards from four continents. They found that the identity of the predator didn't make much of a difference. Together, by eating herbivores and their insect predators, they reduced damage to plants by 40 percent, which resulted in a 14 percent increase in plant biomass. (source)
Photo: Wikipedia, CC
Protecting Whole Ecosystems, Not just Charismatic Species
This is just one more piece of evidence in favor of protecting these species and not just the "flagship" species (big predators, big herbivores, etc). The less we mess with complex ecosystems, the better, and to do that, we need to not jump to conclusion about which species are "important" and which are not. We often turn out to be wrong, and that can lead to disastrous consequences.
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