When we talk about nature-based carbon storage and climate change mitigation, the conversation is often focused on vegetation: forests, peatlands, seagrasses. And whilst this is for good reason (the carbon stored in all animals is less than 1% stored in plants), it is important not to discount the role that animals play in improving the processes and functioning of ecosystems. Many animals provide key benefits to overall ecosystem functioning, here are just a few examples.
Sea Otters are found in the North Pacific Ocean, their presence increases the carbon density of Kelp Forests by a factor of ten in some cases. They contribute by on feeding on Sea Urchins, helping reduce herbivory on the Kelp. This allows for greater growth and carbon storage.
Four species of Vulture, currently reside in Spain. Through feeding on livestock carcasses Vultures in Spain avoid up to 77,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year in Waster Management and Incineration emissions by feeding on livestock carcasses. Each species has a different feeding habit, making them an efficient clean up crew.
Larger species also have a key role to play, on land and in the sea. Just 12,000 Sperm Whales living in the Southern Ocean sequester 240,000 tonnes of Carbon annually by transferring nutrients from the deep ocean to the surface, fuelling phytoplankton blooms. A mechanism known as the Whale Pump. The entire Sperm Whale population (estimated 300,000) could potentially contribute up to 6 million tonnes of Carbon (22 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents).
Even despite their destructive nature, African Forest Elephants can increase the carbon storage of Central African Forests by up to 9,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per square kilometre. By destroying trees, they create areas of greater sunlight and reduced competition. This allows for ‘late-stage succession’ trees to form, which are taller, longer-lived, and able to store more carbon.
By taking a nature-based approach to climate change mitigation, we can work to achieve more Sustainable Development Goals.