In DepthEcology

Drowned wildebeest provide ecological feast

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Science  23 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6344, pp. 1217-1218
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6344.1217

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It's one of the iconic sights of Africa: hundreds of thousands of wildebeest thundering across the Serengeti in an annual mass migration. But each year thousands drown crossing the Mara River there. Though tragic for wildebeest, their carcasses provide a dramatic increase in nutrients for a month, and the decaying bones act like a slow release fertilizer for this aquatic ecosystem. Researchers looked at 15 years of data on wildebeest drownings, witnessing several and surveying the extent of the carnage and the succession of scavengers that feasted on them afterward. The study adds to a growing body of knowledge that mass mortality can have impacts on the ecosystem. Other examples include dead whales that sink to the ocean floor and salmon that die after they return to rivers and streams to spawn.