By: Katherine Millican
The tropical storm named Hurricane Ida worked its way across the eastern United States since first making landfall in Louisiana on August 30th. Not only has this storm taken the lives of at least 80 people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage, it has also caused wildlife to head for the hills-literally. In the event of flooding, animals such as black bears, alligators, venomous and non venomous snakes, wild hogs, and deer will trek to higher ground to survive. Unfortunately, this higher ground is already occupied by our cities, homes, and highways, pushing these animals into the paths of unsuspecting residents and drivers. This is not only dangerous for the humans, but also for the animals who were unwillingly pushed out of their natural habitats. This will also mean that these animals will have a hard time finding the elements essential for their survival: food, fresh water, and shelter. The places they do look to find these things will most likely be occupied by people, many of whom have the unfortunate misconception that these animals are inherently dangerous. That is not to say that they AREN’T dangerous--by all means avoid crossing paths with free roaming bears and alligators whenever possible-- however, most of the time these animals are just acting out of fear for their own safety or for protection of their young. In any case, close contact with wild animals is unpredictable and should be avoided. And speaking of young, Hurricane Ida has come at the perfect time of year when black bear cubs are about 6-8 months old, as the birthing season for black bears is usually from January to early spring. The impact of the flooding and the forced interaction with humans could be extremely dangerous for the cubs, and as a result, detrimental to future black bear populations. The flood waters also bring fish, turtles, and other marine animals along in their currents, and often leave them out to dry when they recede. Although these areas can appear extremely morbid, they do come with a silver lining. The organic matter will be scavenged and provide important nutrients for animals in the ecosystem. Surviving fish and small aquatic animals can flourish in the waters with uncharacteristically low predator concentrations and rejuvenate the ecosystem in a relatively short period of time. The environment is pretty resilient, but if climate change continues to worsen, it will no longer be such a simple fix. All in all, the damage caused by Hurricane Ida and the effects it has on wildlife will be felt for many years to come.
Why we should care? The preservation of biodiversity will have lasting effects on the future of the planet as a whole. Even removing just one species from an ecosystem can have a butterfly effect on all the rest.
I found this article interesting because it discusses fish kills as after effects of hurricanes and what it means for the ecosystem. Fish kills are groups of deceased fish that were left stranded when flood waters recede. They can also be caused by large amounts of decomposing matter in the weeks after a storm being washed into the water system, depleting the oxygen levels and “suffocating” the fish. Although sad, the author also mentions that the fish carcass provide food for scavengers in the area like birds, racoons, and alligators, and the long term effects of these kills are a replenished ecosystem, due to low concentrations of aquatic predators and more available resources come spring. I liked learning about this because it is nice to know that these kind of ecosystems work in a cycle, where the deaths of one organism can provide nutrients for others leading to a replenished system.
Science in Action.
Dr. Francis Masse is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at Northumbria University in Newcastle England.
Dr. Francis Masse has done research about political ecology and geology, and focuses on the interactions between humans and wildlife with a focus on wildlife crime and poaching. In 2016, Dr. Masse did a research study in Mozambique Africa on wildlife displacement and how it was affecting the residents and their livestock. In this case, it wasn’t natural causes such as flooding that was displacing the wildlife, it was the creation of a park that wildlife were being moved to that contained communities of people. This research is relevant to my topic because it focuses on human-wildlife interaction and the outcomes and potential dangers for both the people living there and for the animals themselves. In both this case and in the case of Hurricane Ida, it is unfortunate that in an effort to survive, the animals end up in potentially more dangerous situations that come from interacting with humans.