Role of elephants in the ecosystem

The mighty Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), is a keystone species which is ecologically significant and helps in maintaining biodiversity. As, they provide critical ecosystem services that are crucial for the survival of other species in the ecosystem. Similarly, Elephants also has a significant cultural value in Hindu Mythology that symbolizes strength, spirituality and wisdom. These large animals are both wild and domesticated. While in a wild herd, the leaders direct the herd’s movement from a particular spot to another in the quest of food and shelter. They also face a variety of difficulties, usually from humans during their movement.

Also, being one of the largest and strong land animals, they serve as ecosystem engineers and provide the most remarkable ecological contributions through a variety of interactions such as change their surroundings by uprooting trees and bushes, digging waterholes, clearing impenetrable forests, seed dispersal and habitat modification. These actions increase the diversity of an ecosystem by providing new habitats for other species. Further, they loosen the tightly packed soil where plants begin to grow. By managing the regeneration of forests and guaranteeing the survival of several plant species, elephants essentially transform into unintentional gardeners. It allows more sunlight to reach the ground helping low-lying plants to thrive inside dense canopies and create a new ecosystem for microorganisms

Despite its cultural importance, due to habitat encroachment and fragmentation by humans, this often led the human-elephant conflicts which have been one of the major concerns. The main worry is to protect and securing their habitat, by securing the elephant corridor.

As they often travel to a vast land in quest of food and water, they consume a variety of fruits and plants. While their diets consist mainly of plants, and their excreta works as a natural fertilizer by providing the soil with essential nutrients that support or enhance the ecosystem’s overall health. This also helps in dispersal of seed from one place to another. Similarly, Elephant dung is also a good food source for small insects such as dung beetles and crucial part of dung beetle life cycle as they lay their eggs in the dung ball.

In conclusion, the elephant are magnificent creatures, and their importance is far more than their physical presence. As nature’s seed dispersers, landscape engineers, and culture representatives they are umbrella species. And play the crucial role in promoting biodiversity. For the sake of future generations, these species must be conserved and protected.

Write up: Rona Vaidya (Volunteer, ENPROSC)