Hippo Poop's Role in Silicon Cycle

Various natural processes in the environment work together in synergy to keep the flow of life intact. The natural order maintains the balance that holds ecosystems together. Each one in the chain gives and receives in return from the cycles that occur in nature.

Here, we feature hippos and how they stabilize the movement of silicon in the East African environment. They do this by eating grass rich in silicon and then excrete it into the river.

A team led by biologist Jonas Schoelynck of the University of Antwerp in Belgium tracked silicon moving through Kenya’s Mara River, a hippo hangout, by analyzing ratios of two silicon isotopes — versions of the element with different masses — in grasses, hippo feces, soil and waters.

The team found that hippos play an outsized role in cycling silicon through the local ecosystem. Hippos grazing on grasses in the savanna can consume about 800 kilograms of silicon daily through the plants. As a hippo lingers in the water, it can excrete about half of the silicon it consumed. All told, the animals “pumped” 0.4 metric tons of silicon from the grasslands into the Mara River daily, increasing the total amount of silicon measured in the water by more than 76 percent, the team estimates.

Now, of course, we also need to consider the conservation status of the hippos in East Africa. We now know the importance of hippos in keeping the balance of the ecosystem. Many plants and animals depend on these nutrients and if the hippos were to suddenly disappear, that will upset the delicate balance, and wreck the ecological structure.

(Image credit: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash)

Source: neatorama

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