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How can wild animals help us fight climate change?
Blog...How can wild animals help us fight climate change?

How can wild animals help us fight climate change?

Ecology News
Global Warming
large bison
In this article, we'll delve into the various, often unnoticed, ways wild animals contribute to mitigating climate change.
Ecology News
large bison

We often approach climate change through a human lens - it is after all a man-made problem, that poses a significant risk to human life and requires solutions that humans also drive. However, this is not the whole picture - wild animals play a significant role in maintaining ecological balance, and surprisingly, they may also be an invaluable asset when it comes to the fight against climate change. 

👉 In this article, we'll delve into the various, often unnoticed, ways wild animals contribute to mitigating climate change.

Climate change and wild animals

Wild animals are not simply passive inhabitants of their ecosystems - quite the opposite in fact - they are active participants that play a key role in their environments. Their day-to-day activities - from the pollination function of bees to the landscape-shaping movements of elephants -  are instrumental in the health and functionality of these ecosystems. And these actions, it turns out, also have an important impact on global climate patterns.

Let's start by considering the role of wild animals in the carbon cycle, a critical process in regulating the Earth's climate. Animals actively shape and contribute to the functioning of this cycle. Take, for example, the way herbivores like elephants or bison stimulate plant growth by pruning vegetation, which can lead to greater carbon absorption by plants. Similarly, marine creatures, ranging from tiny plankton to large whales, play a role in oceanic nutrient cycling, supporting carbon sequestration in marine environments. Each species, in its own unique way, plays an important part in sustaining this intricate ecological equilibrium.

The contribution of wild animals to climate mitigation extends beyond carbon sequestration. Their role in preserving biodiversity, pollinating plants, and maintaining soil health are also crucial elements in the fight against climate change. Far from playing a passive role in maintaining the Earth’s systems, wild animals act as natural regulators and protectors of our planet's health.

💡 Given the crucial role that wild animals play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, they should be a key consideration in our climate action plans. Sadly, however, their importance is often overlooked and many fail to recognize and integrate the role of wild animals. This isn't just about conservation for the sake of biodiversity - it's about understanding and leveraging the natural solutions these animals provide in terms of climate change mitigation.

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How wild animals contribute to natural climate solutions

When it comes to the fight against climate change, the role of wild animals is often overshadowed by more mainstream strategies like renewable energy and green tech innovation. Yet, the impact of these natural inhabitants of our planet in mitigating climate effects shouldn’t be overlooked.

In this section, we explore the essential ways in which wild animals are not just part of our natural world but active players in natural climate solutions.

We’ve already briefly touched on it in the previous section, but let's consider the carbon storage capabilities of wild animals in more detail. Many animal species contribute significantly to the sequestration of carbon - a process vital for reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Consider the role of wolves in a forest ecosystem for example. As apex predators, wolves significantly contribute to the ecological balance. Their presence controls the deer population, preventing overgrazing. This control in deer numbers allows for healthier forest growth and protects plant life, which is vital for carbon storage. Without wolves, the deer population may increase unchecked, leading to overgrazing. This excessive grazing can drastically reduce vegetation levels, impairing the forest's ability to absorb and store carbon effectively.

💡 Did you know? Whales are another example of a surprising species that plays an important role in carbon sequestration. Through their feeding and migration patterns, they contribute to the nutrient cycle in oceans, promoting the growth of phytoplankton which absorbs significant amounts of CO2.

Wild animals play an important role in enhancing the resilience of ecosystems to the impacts of climate change. This is achieved through the role they play within the food web, which maintains the health and diversity of ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems are better able to withstand and recover from climate extremes like droughts and floods.

Another significant function that animals play in mitigating climate change is their role in maintaining soil health. Creatures like earthworms and insects contribute to soil aeration and nutrient cycling, which is important for plant growth. This not only promotes carbon storage but also supports agriculture by improving soil health, helping to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers which are harmful to the environment, dangerous to human and wildlife health, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, wild animals act as natural engineers. Beavers, for example, create wetlands through their dam-building activities. These wetlands are critical habitats that store carbon and purify water, promoting environmental health and climate regulation.

Reintroducing and supporting wild animal populations

Given the important role that wild animals play in the carbon cycle and in maintaining healthy ecosystems, let's explore how protecting and enhancing populations of key wildlife species (known as rewilding) can supercharge our efforts in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Rewilding is a method that aims to restore ecosystems to their natural state, often by reintroducing key species of wild animals that have either been lost or diminished. Rewilding not only revives the natural dynamics of the ecosystem but also enhances its ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One of the most cited and successful examples of rewilding is the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Their reintroduction to the area led to a series of positive ecological changes in the national park, including the stabilization of deer and elk numbers leading to an increase in vegetation growth, which in turn led to greater carbon storage capabilities.

💡 Scientists believe that restoring populations of just nine key species - sea fish, whales, sharks, wolves, wildebeest, sea otters, musk ox, African forest elephants, and American bison - could facilitate the capture of a significant amount of the CO2 needed annually to keep global warming below the critical 1.5°C threshold.

The implications of this are huge. By focusing on the health and diversity of animal populations, we can significantly boost the carbon-capturing capabilities of natural habitats like forests, grasslands, wetlands, and oceans. What’s more, is that this approach not only aids in climate change mitigation but also contributes to biodiversity conservation.

Moreover, rewilding and wildlife conservation can be more cost-effective compared to some technological solutions for carbon capture. Nature-based solutions harness the natural processes of ecosystems to absorb and store carbon, requiring less maintenance and technological input while providing a host of other ecological benefits.

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The benefits of wildlife conservation

While the role of wild animals in carbon capture and climate mitigation cannot be underplayed, their importance extends beyond just the carbon cycle. For example, the conservation of wildlife also plays an important role in helping communities adapt to and become more resilient against the impacts of climate change.

Firstly, wild animals are central to maintaining healthy ecosystems, which are in turn essential for climate adaptation. For example, mangrove forests, which are made up of a diverse array of species, act as natural barriers against storm surges and coastal erosion. Similarly, healthy forest ecosystems, home to a wide range of wildlife, can reduce the impact of flooding by absorbing large amounts of rainwater.

💡 Did you know? Bees and other pollinators, vital for the health of many ecosystems, play a critical role in food security. By ensuring the pollination of a wide variety of crops, they contribute to stable food supplies, a crucial factor in adapting to the unpredictable effects of climate change.

Wildlife conservation also supports the preservation of traditional knowledge and practices, which are often key to climate resilience. Indigenous and local communities, who live in close harmony with nature, have a deep understanding of their local ecosystems and wildlife. This knowledge is invaluable in developing sustainable practices and adapting to climate change.

Additionally, biodiversity, strengthened by robust wildlife populations, enhances ecosystem resilience. Diverse ecosystems are better equipped to withstand and recover from climate extremes, such as droughts, heatwaves, and floods. By conserving wildlife, we are effectively supporting the natural resilience mechanisms of these ecosystems.

two wolves in the wild

Restoring wild animal populations

The restoration of wild animal populations, with all its benefits, is a highly practical solution in our global effort to combat climate change. By restoring native populations of key wildlife species we can better shape a sustainable future.

The concept of restoring wildlife populations is anchored in the understanding that animals are not just passive elements of their ecosystems but active agents in environmental processes. By restoring these populations, we not only protect these creatures but also strengthen the ability of the Earth’s natural habitats to act as a carbon sink.

Restoring wild animal populations involves several key strategies. It includes creating protected areas, rewilding landscapes, and reintroducing species into their native habitats. These efforts must be coupled with broader conservation measures, like habitat restoration and combating poaching and wildlife trade. By focusing on these restoration efforts, we can take tangible steps towards a more resilient and sustainable world, one where the balance between human activity and natural processes is restored and maintained.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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