Ecosystems

What roles do birds play in different ecosystems?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Birds are fun to watch zipping around the neighborhood or splashing in the bird bath, and their presence bolsters their ecosystems alongside our enjoyment. They can play any number of roles in a given ecosystem, most of which fall into four main categories: provisioning, regulating, cultural enhancement and supporting services. Supporting services, for example, include tasks such as predation, pollination and seed dispersal.

    Seed dispersal is one of the most important aspects of birds' roles in their ecosystems, especially since most birds can fly. Seed dispersal simply means the spreading of seeds beyond their immediate area. It is necessary for a number of reasons: The seeds may need to be transported great distances to increase the amount of gene flow in a species; they may need to be "airlifted" to reach potential new colonization sites; or perhaps they need to be delivered to locations that are ideal for survival and early growth, such as the branch of a tree.

    Interestingly enough, while seed dispersal is an efficient seed delivery system, it's not without its obstacles. Many plants are generalists, meaning lots of seed-dispersing species can get the plant's seeds to ideal spots. But other plants are much more specialized. Some species of chilies, for example, are spicy because of a chemical that makes them toxic to ground-dwelling mammals. Unfortunately, such mammals often moonlight as seed dispersers. However, it's hard to do an end run around mother nature and the evolutionary spirit, and it turns out certain species of thrasher are up to the chili dispersal task. They can eat the spicy chilies without a problem. And, unlike those little ground mammals with the aversion to spicy fare, the thrashers don't actually digest the seeds inside. Instead, they shuttle them to top-notch locations -- such as the protective shade of already established plants -- and deposit them intact in their waste.




     

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