The death of Pleistocene beasts forever altered the landscape.
Herbivores are plant predators. It might be strange to think of them that way. A horse plucking up grass or an elephant chawing a mouthful of leaves isn’t as violent or gory a spectacle as a pack of wolves taking down an elk. Yet ecologists call the feeding habits of herbivores “predation” for good reason. The interactions may be slower and harder to see, and there is cooperation in addition to competition, but there are still arms races between herbivores and the plants they rely on. And this constant shuffle is what helps create the landscapes we see all around us.
Consider the American mastodon. This “bubby toothed” elephant was a browser, preferring tree branches and other woody vegetation to the diet of grass enjoyed by its distant cousin, the woolly mammoth. But the mastodon didn’t just eat trees and shrubs. The beast would have trampled down paths through the woods and scraped its tusks against tree trunks, further altering the landscape around it by stamping out some young plants and hindering the growth of others. Mammut americanum altered the world through its habits.
Such beasts, Bakker and coauthors write, were ecosystem engineers.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 2 years ago
I have loved my altered awareness since I become aware of this topic. I have trees on my farm, some kind of locust. It has a huge strong trunk with very few branches, and then way up high it has leaves and branches. It's so easy to me to imagine generations of mammoths altering the growth habit of that species.