Thursday, May 16, 2019

Assaults on Wildlife from the Top to the Bottom of the Food Web

The Trump administration has proven harmful to species both great and small. Wildlife at the top of the food chain play vital roles in maintaining the health of ecosystems and although species at the bottom of the food web might not captivate the popular imagination like apex predators, they still play pivotal roles. The Trump administration has not been coy about its propensity to prioritize economic interests over the well being of the natural world. Some may celebrate the financial gains wrought through the elimination of environmental regulations and species protections but this is a Pyrrhic victory that ignores the fundamental interconnectedness of all life. Organizations like NRDC and Earth Justice are mounting successful court challenges to force the administration to address it's failure to protect wildlife. One judge described this administration's conduct as a "pattern of bad faith".

The Trump administration has institutionalized fact avoidance to prosecute it's war against wildlife. Facts that interfere with their policy agenda will not be tolerated, thus the executive branch, government agencies and departments all resist scientific input.

The administration's blatant disregard for America's biodiversity augers a wide range of serious problems. The natural world is an interconnected web of life forms. The decline of one species often adversely impacts a number of other species. Some obvious examples include pollinators and corals. Coral reefs are under threat due to warming seas and ocean acidification. They protect shorelines from storms and they support fisheries. As reported by Scientific American, US coral reefs provide $1.8 billion of ecosystem services each year. We are also losing pollinators including bees, which play a critical role in plant reproduction* and agriculture.  Bees are critical pollinators, without them our ecosystems are at risk of collapsing.

Biodiversity does far more than just provide ecosystem services, nature has a value that transcends economics. Our economy, indeed our very lives depend on the natural world.  Here are three species that are suffering because of the Trump administration. 

Gray Wolves


Wolves were one of the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, now America's iconic gray wolves are under threat from the federal government. In March the Trump administration made it known that they are seeking to remove the gray wolf's protections. The proposal means that gray wolves could be hunted and trapped.

Wolves are not only at the top of the food web they are a keystone species and as such their disappearance would have a profound ecosystem wide impacts. They keep elk populations under control which in turn protects willows and aspen. The leftovers of their kills provide food for a number of other species. They help increase beaver populations and they keep coyotes in check. They also contribute to increases in insects, fish, songbirds and other wildlife.

Dusky Sharks

The dusky shark is another apex predator that sits atop the food web and helps maintain the ecological balance. The courts are a last recourse to save a species that is on the brink of extinction. Fishing for this imperiled dusky shark was outlawed in 2000, but the federal government turns a blind eye to the fact that they are still killed in bycatch. In April a federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service is breaking the law due to its failure to use available science to protect the dusky shark from bycatch.

Anchovies


It is not only apex predators like gray wolves and the dusky shark that are being hurt by the Trump administration's failures. At the bottom of the food web other species are also under threat. Anchovy populations are being decimated by overfishing as a result of the ruling administration's failure to enforce scientifically valid catch limits. This was the verdict of a judgement earlier this year that ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue a scientifically valid catch limit for the anchovy population within 90 days.

Anchovies are important sources of food for marine species including whales and sea lions. For some populations the availability of anchovies is a matter of life and death. The decline in anchovy populations is thought to have caused the starvation death of thousands of sea lions in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013.

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*Honey bees transfer pollen produced by the male reproductive organs in a flower (anther) or from a male cone to the female reproductive organs (stigma/ovule). This transfer of microscopic grains of male gametes contained in pollen allow for the formation of seeds.

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