Us humans like to think we’re at the top of the food chain. It’s good to be at the top, right? However, in the animal kingdom, survival of the top is dependent on survival at the bottom. How far-reaching does this food web extend? And are us humans really part of nature?
The sun is the starting point for life on earth. The sun’s energy is captured by plants through photosynthesis and is converted to food. Herbivores feed on vegetation and provide meat for carnivores. The carnivores feed on the herbivores. All animals take in oxygen from our atmosphere and we in turn release carbon dioxide for the plants to use. Through digestion we provide nutrients to the soil; the soil provides nutrients and minerals to the plants. Plants absorb our carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
The food web viewed this way is sort of a wheel, a closed-system if you will. The wheel requires balance and if any portions are swollen while others wear thin, we should expect serious wobble. Basics for good balance are the correct dosage of sunshine, the right amount of clean water, healthy soil, and clean air. These will be the challenges of the immediate future for our ever-expanding human population.
In our local wilderness, sunshine provides life for leafy plants, grasses and seeds to provide food for our most common mammal, the mouse. Other local plant-eating animals include rabbits, pine squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, muskrats, deer, bighorn sheep, and elk.
Each herbivore represents a potential meal or snack for a carnivore. However, this one step up the chain requires that there are a vastly greater number of plant-eaters to feed the meat eaters. Carnivores have their preferred foods. For instance, bobcats primarily hunt rabbits and hares. Coyotes, foxes, and weasels take large numbers of mice and voles. Pine martens prefer squirrels. Badgers gobble ground squirrels. Golden eagles snag rabbits and ground squirrels. Mountain lions focus their energies on large herbivores such as deer, elk, and bighorn sheep.
Notice how the carnivores focus their eating habits on the herbivores. Although a carnivore may occasionally cross the line, say a great-horned owl can snatch up a weasel, by and large the owl will focus its hunting on mice and rabbits because those food sources are in the natural balance.
Notice how humans also prefer eating meat from herbivores such as deer, elk, cow and pig. But our taste buds shy away when someone offers weasel meat, or lion steaks.
These examples of relationships in nature also relate to human environmental challenges. If we have clean air, clean water, and clean soil, we’ve got a shot at the future. A healthy environment is important on both a local and global scale because our personal health depends on the common air we breathe, the wholesomeness of foods we eat, and the purity of the water we drink. Like the fox pouncing on the vole, its great to be on the top, but only with the balance from the bottom of the food chain will the wheel of life continue to roll.