What Are Apex Predators And Why Are They Important?
Top apex predators often get an unfair reputation.
Apex animals, such as polar bears or lions, are branded aggressive and violent. With this sort of reputation, many people have little sympathy for most apex predators.But in actuality, they are simply behaving the way they have been biologically designed in order to protect their kind, and to ensure ecosystems function as normal.
But what you may not realize is that apex predators are important for the health of the planet. From ocean apex predators like orcas to land apex animals like tigers, each serve a key function in their habitat.
In fact, many of them are known as keystone species. That’s because the absence of these apex animals could lead to the destruction of the ecosystems in which they exist.
Why are apex predators important? In short, they help to maintain the balance in the ecosystem.
In this post, we are going to look at some of the reasons we need apex predators. But first, let’s start with some background, including what apex predators are and examples.
WHAT ARE APEX PREDATORS?
Apex predators, often referred to as apex animals, are the top predators in their respective ecosystems. These creatures sit at the pinnacle of the food chain, facing few-to-no natural threats from other species. Unlike other animals, apex predators have evolved specific hunting skills and attributes that give them dominance in their habitats.
WHAT ANIMALS ARE APEX PREDATORS?
Apex animals reign supreme in their habitats, and their presence is vital for ecosystem balance. Some prime apex predator examples include:
- Polar bears in the Arctic
- Great white sharks in the oceans
- Tigers in Asian forests
- Eagles in the skies
- Crocodiles in freshwater habitats
- Orcas in marine ecosystems
- Wolves in North American woodlands
- Lions in the African Savannah
Each of these apex predator examples stands at the pinnacle of their respective food chains.
HOW MANY APEX PREDATORS ARE THERE?
The exact number of apex predators is challenging to pinpoint, as it varies across ecosystems and regions. However, in every corner of our planet, these dominant apex animals assert their position at the top of the food chain.
Whether in the depths of the ocean or the vast expanse of a savannah, apex predators play crucial roles in their habitats. It's essential to recognize that the term isn't limited to just one or two species but encompasses a diverse array of formidable creatures globally.
THE 4 MAIN REASONS WHY WE NEED APEX PREDATORS
Understanding the role of apex predators in the ecosystem is not only fascinating but crucial for grasping the balance of our natural world. From the soaring eagle to the deep-diving orca, these dominant apex animals have an irreplaceable role in the natural order.
Let’s understand the profound impact they have on shaping and maintaining their habitats by talking about the four main reasons we need apex predators.
REGULATING LESSER PREDATORS
The food web in any ecosystem is complex. In many cases, you may have apex predators, but you will also have a range of smaller predators.
As an example, you might have lions as the apex predator, but then you could also have cats or foxes as the mesopredators. The presence of apex predators helps to keep the populations and activities of smaller predators in check.
If an apex predator is wiped out or greatly diminished, it can lead to a phenomenon known as mesopredator release. When this occurs, the exploding population of smaller predators can be destructive to the ecosystem.
For example, it could lead to them overhunting a prey species that would have supported them when their population and activities were kept under control by the presence of the apex predator. This can then have a cascading effect on the ecosystem that will lead to dramatic changes that can affect all species.
CONTROLLING PREY SPECIES POPULATIONS
Many people might think it would be great for prey species if the apex predators disappeared. This might seem logical on the surface, but it is more complicated than that.
Apex animals work to remove the weak and the ill from prey populations. Over time, this makes for a stronger and healthier population in the prey species.
Beyond that, prey species can be their own worst enemies when populations are allowed to grow unchecked. Imagine grasslands overpopulated with wildebeests. With nothing to control the population or force them to move on, they could overgraze and destroy their food supply.
PROTECTING THE SMALLER ANIMALS IN THE ECOSYSTEM
While it may not be their intention to protect the smaller animals in the ecosystem, the activities of apex predators often serve that function. Depending on the context, this is achieved both through the regulating of mesopredators and the control of prey species populations.
When mesopredators are allowed to hunt freely and with no competition from apex predators, they can often put pressure on smaller animals. Additionally, these smaller animals often rely on the same food sources as prey species. If the prey species population is left to grow with no pressure from apex animals, they could destroy the food source for smaller animals.
MAINTAINING THE BALANCE
When you put it all together, apex predators often play an important role in maintaining the balance of an ecosystem. When they disappear or their numbers get too low, it can have a ripple effect that will be harmful to all of the plants and animals in the ecosystem.
Beyond just affecting the animals and plants, it can have an impact on the land itself. When prey animals overgraze, it can lead to erosion. Unchecked herds can also overuse resources like water. In the oceans, apex predators leave meals for scavengers at the bottom of the food chain to support the ecosystem.
It is all an important balance that can have catastrophic effects when it is thrown off. With many of the world’s top 10 apex predators being under threat, this should be a concern for everyone.
At Fahlo, we recognize the importance of apex predators. We work with nonprofits like the Orca Research Trust and Polar Bears International to help them raise money. If you are interested in helping these apex predators, please check out our products to support these causes.