How Replacing Native Forests Could Lead to Fewer Visiting Manta Rays

Shutterstock_96853039Manta ray. Photo Shutterstock

Most people are familiar with Aldo Leopold's thoughts on cascading environmental damage from Thinking Like a Mountain. When wolves were hunted out of forests in the American Southwest, deer increased, the deer ate more tree saplings, there was a dearth of new trees, and the deer population went into a boom and bust cycle. When Leopold was younger and working for the government, he thought killing the wolves would lead to more game and a better environment. As an older man looking back at his career, he understood what the loss of wolves meant to the ecosystem. More than a half century later, it's clear that the loss of wolves led to other issues, such as the increase and spread of coyotes.

A new study published in the May 17 issue of Scientific Reports shows how changes in coastal forests can affect the abundance of fish offshore. In the waters of Palmyra Atoll, a series of remote islands and reefs located in the middle of the Pacific, there are fewer manta rays using coastal areas next to land where native trees have been replaced with palm trees. The loss of the marine giants has to do with the change in vegetation, a decrease in birds, and a decrease in fertilizer.

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