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15 Animals that Help the Environment

Animals that help the environment do so by promoting biodiversity and maintaining healthy conditions through their natural habits and behaviors. Helpful animals range from small sugar ants to gargantuan blue whales roaming the ocean depths. These important animals contribute to a stable and diverse habitat by foraging for food, spreading seeds, and breaking up the soil.

Most environmentally beneficial animals
Animals of all kinds play an inextricable role in maintaining the health of the environment.

Animals and the environment they live in are interdependent. Animals such as bees and butterflies feed on the nectar of plants and help pollinate more plants by transferring that pollen to the next. There are subsequently more plants due to the pollinators, which provide them with the necessary nutrients. However, some animals adapt to their environments for more mutually beneficial lives. For example, blind mole rats have adapted to their underground lives with rudimentary eyes, allowing simple light detection. They can hide from predators above ground and benefit the ecosystem by aerating the soil.

There’s a risk of beneficial animals becoming endangered or going extinct due to habitat destruction or overhunting. Humans can protect animals and their habitats by supporting conservation and sustainability initiatives. Educating others about animals’ greater role in the ecosystem contributes to collective action and peaceful coexistence between animals and humans.

There needs to be a balance to ensure the longevity and health of an ecosystem. Animals have a specific role in stabilizing their environment and ensuring it also functions to their benefit. The list below describes 15 animals that help the environment and explains their benefits.

  1. Dog: Dogs benefit the environment by aiding wildlife conservation efforts with their foraging and digging behaviors that help in seed dispersal and protecting biodiversity.
  2. Shark: Sharks play a critical role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems by regulating the species below them in the food chain and helping to keep fish populations healthy.
  3. Fish: Fish contribute to healthy aquatic ecosystems by managing algae levels and others serving as prey for larger animals to maintain the balance in food webs.
  4. Bird: Birds contribute to plant diversity through seed dispersal and pollination, help control insect populations, and act as indicators of environmental health.
  5. Rat: Rats play a role in seed dispersion and soil aeration in their habitats and serve as a food source for many predators.
  6. Bat: Bats are excellent pollinators that reduce pest populations and pollute many plants and crops.
  7. Turtle: Turtles help maintain healthy marine and freshwater habitats by reducing jellyfish populations and grazing on seagrass.
  8. Frog: Frogs are vital for pest control as they consume large quantities of insects and serve as predators and prey in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
  9. Bee: Bees are important pollinators that help grow various plants, including many crops essential for human consumption.
  10. Butterfly: Butterflies contribute to crops and flowers by pollinating plants, and they have a diverse genetic makeup that indicates a healthy, biodiverse environment.
  11. Whale: Whales contribute to nutrient cycling in the ocean through feeding and excretion, supporting marine food webs, and helping in carbon sequestration.
  12. Tapir: Tapirs are important seed dispersers in tropical forests because they consume fruits and spread seeds through their droppings.
  13. Worm: Earthworms are vital for soil health because they aerate the soil, decompose organic matter, and enhance nutrient availability.
  14. Ant: Ants help the environment by aerating the soil, decomposing organic material, and dispersing seeds.
  15. Elephant: Elephants help the environment by aiding in seed dispersal, shaping the landscape, and maintaining biodiversity due to their large-scale movements and feeding habits.

The article below examines the types of animals that help the environment, the difference between extinct and endangered species, and how humans can protect animals and their environment.

1. Dog

A dog is a domesticated mammal from the Canidae family that benefits the environment by aiding in biodiversity and wildlife management efforts. Humans have kept dogs as companions for thousands of years and use them for various tasks such as protection and hunting. Humans have been able to work with dogs to expand on how they can help the environment with new tech and research that makes them helpful outside of their predatory capabilities.

Dogs and the environment

One way dogs are helping to maintain the ecosystem is by detecting invasive species. A German shepherd was used by the Department of Agriculture in Pennsylvania to sniff out spotted lanternflies. Some dogs are even trained in seeding plant growth, which helps with habitat restoration. For example, three border collies in Chile helped their owner reseed a forest after a fire devastated it.

Moreover, dogs have instincts that drive them to dig and forage, which helps to aerate the soil and promotes conservation efforts. For example, truffle hunting dogs search for ripe truffles without raking the topsoil to find them. The dog-led hunting excursions leave little damage behind, and the dogs’ digging gives the soil gentle aeration.

2. Shark

A shark is a cartilaginous fish with a streamlined body, sharp teeth, and advanced sensory systems that help the environment due to their diet. As top predators, sharks regulate the populations of their prey, which affects the prey of those animals and so on down the food chain. This regulation helps maintain balance in marine ecosystems.

Sharks and the environment

Additionally, sharks remove sick and weak animals from the prey populations, which can help prevent the spread of disease and strengthen the gene pools of those species. For example, reef sharks will roam the Great Barrier Reef for weak or sick fish and help keep the numbers down to manageable sizes.

In areas where sharks are abundant, their presence keeps the populations of herbivorous fish in check. These herbivorous fish can overgraze and destroy seagrass beds, a crucial habitat for many marine species. By controlling these populations, sharks indirectly contribute to the health and diversity of these important ecosystems.

3. Fish

Fish are a diverse group of aquatic animals contributing to the balance and health of freshwater and marine environments. Fish are an essential part of the food web and play dual roles as prey for larger animals and as predators that help control populations of other species.

Fishes and the environment

Moreover, fish play a role in nutrient cycling as their waste products are a source of nutrients for other organisms, like plants and smaller aquatic creatures. For example, fish waste contains nitrogen and phosphorus, which are used in fertilizer treatments to increase helpful microbes in the soil.

Furthermore, tropical fish in coral reef ecosystems help control algae growth on corals, which can otherwise overwhelm and kill the reef. Certain species, like parrotfish, consume algae and dead coral, cleaning the surface and making room for new coral growth.

4. Bird

Birds are a group of warm-blooded, egg-laying, beaked, feathered vertebrates that act as pollinators and pest control systems. Many bird species, such as hummingbirds and honeyeaters, feed on nectar and transfer pollen from one flower to another. Birds also consume fruits and later excrete the seeds at different locations, which spreads seeds to maintain plant diversity.

Birds and the environment

Birds aid in pest control because insects are one of their main food sources. For example, the purple martin is a swallow with a fervent appetite for mosquitoes. Their diet of pests controls their populations and reduces the spread of diseases.

Birds’ environmental impact can be seen in maintaining healthy forests. For example, woodpeckers feed on insects living in trees, which keeps insect populations in check and prevents outbreaks that could be detrimental to the forest. The holes woodpeckers create in trees serve as nesting sites for other bird species and small mammals.

5. Rat

A rat is an omnivorous rodent that aids in seed dispersal and helps to maintain balance within its ecosystem. Rats collect and store seeds and nuts, and some of these stored seeds are forgotten. These forgotten food stashes result in new growth crucial for forest regeneration and plant diversity.

Rats and the environment

Rats are a prey animal that serves as a food source for various predators, including birds of prey, snakes, and larger mammals. This makes them a key part of the food web, helping maintain the balance between predator and prey populations.

Additionally, rats in urban environments help with waste decomposition by consuming and breaking down organic matter, although this role is overshadowed by the challenges they pose in urban settings. For example, in New York City, rats have been captured on video eating litter from the streets, such as tossed aside slices of pizza.

6. Bat

A bat is a nocturnal mammal capable of sustained flight, with a diet that typically includes insects, fruits, or nectar. Bats benefit the environment as they are crucial in pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and controlling insect populations.

Bats and the environment

Bats are essential to the environment because they are major predators of night-flying insects, including many pest species. By controlling insect populations, bats reduce crop damage and the spread of insect-borne diseases. Moreover, fruit-eating bats are vital for seed dispersal and pollination, which helps promote plant diversity.

Bats’ environmental significance is apparent in their role in agave and cactus pollination. In desert environments, bats are the primary pollinators of these plants. The agave plant relies on bats for reproduction, and this interaction is crucial for the survival of agave populations and for industries like tequila production.

7. Turtle

A turtle is a reptile with a hard shell that contributes to the environment by maintaining healthy ecosystems in waterways and on land. Turtles help with marine environments by controlling jellyfish populations and facilitating nutrient cycling.

Turtles and the environment

Turtles maintain the health of seagrass beds by preventing them from becoming too long and thick, which ensures these habitats remain suitable for other marine life. Additionally, turtles help cycle nutrients by transporting them from highly productive marine areas to nutrient-poor beach ecosystems via their eggs.

A notable example of turtles’ environmental impact is the role of hawksbill turtles in coral reefs. These turtles feed on sponges, which compete with corals for space. By controlling sponge populations, hawksbill turtles help maintain the balance within reef ecosystems, ensuring corals have space to grow and supporting these crucial marine habitats’ overall health and biodiversity.

8. Frog

A frog is an amphibian known for its long hind legs for jumping and a life cycle that typically includes aquatic and terrestrial stages. Frogs benefit the environment by controlling insect populations and playing a vital role in the food chain. Their presence in an area is considered an indicator of environmental health.

Frogs and the environment

Frogs contribute to the environment as predators and prey. They help control insect populations by consuming large quantities of pests like mosquitoes. This control of insects benefits human comfort, health, and agricultural productivity. Additionally, frogs serve as a crucial food source for other predators, including birds, fish, and mammals

An important ecological role of frogs is their use as bioindicators. Frogs are sensitive to changes in their environment, especially water quality. Scientists study changes in frog populations and health to assess the health of ecosystems. For example, a decline in frog populations can indicate problems like pollution or habitat destruction, serving as an early warning system for environmental degradation.

9. Bee

A bee is a flying insect known for its role in pollination and for producing honey. Bees are crucial for the environment as they pollinate a significant portion of the plants humans and animals rely on for food.

Bees and the environment

Bees benefit the environment by pollinating various plants, including many important for agriculture. Bees, as they move from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen, inadvertently transfer pollen between plants, thus facilitating this vital biological process.

The decline of bee populations in recent years has raised concerns about food security, as it could lead to reduced crop yields and, consequently, a decrease in the availability of these foods. This situation highlights the critical role bees play not only in natural ecosystems but also in human food production systems.

10. Butterfly

A butterfly is an insect that feeds primarily on nectar from flowers and aids in plant reproduction. These insects are known for their striking color patterns and remarkable metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a winged adult. Butterflies are found worldwide, inhabiting various environments, including gardens, meadows, and forests.

Butterflies and the environment

Butterflies play a significant role in the environment through pollination. As they feed on nectar, they inadvertently transfer pollen from one flower to another, facilitating plant reproduction. This pollination is crucial for the growth of many species of plants, including numerous fruits and flowers, which are essential for a healthy ecosystem.

Butterflies have unique relationships with native plant species, and in many ecosystems, certain plants have evolved to depend on specific butterfly species for pollination. This specialized interaction ensures the survival of both the plants and the butterflies, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the ecosystem. For example, the monarch butterfly’s migration and life cycle are intricately tied to the milkweed plant, the sole food source for monarch caterpillars.

11. Whale

A whale is a large marine mammal that benefits the environment through nutrient cycling and supporting a balanced food chain. Whales are found in oceans worldwide and are known for their size, intelligence, and complex vocalizations.

Whales and the environment

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises play an essential role in marine environments through nutrient recycling. Whales feed at deeper ocean levels and bring nutrients to the surface when they defecate. This nutrient-rich waste is a fertilizer for plankton and other marine life at the surface. The increased plankton productivity supports many marine species, from small fish to larger predators.

Additionally, whales demonstrate their environmental impact in their role in carbon sequestration. The bodies of whales, especially large species, store significant amounts of carbon. When whales die naturally and sink to the ocean floor, this carbon is effectively removed from the atmosphere and ocean system for centuries. This process contributes to reducing atmospheric carbon, which is vital in mitigating climate change.

12. Tapir

A tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal that helps the environment by dispersing seeds throughout their habitats. Tapirs have bulky bodies and short legs and eat a varied diet of leaves, fruits, and branches within Central and South America and Southeast Asia forests.

Tapirs and the environment

One of their most significant contributions is seed dispersal. As tapirs eat different fruits and plants, they spread the seeds through their feces over large areas. Moreover, tapirs spend more time foraging in burned forests than those unaffected by forest fires. Their preference for wandering the areas destroyed by fire helps reseed the land.

Furthermore, tapirs are among the few animals capable of dispersing large seeds in the Amazon rainforest. This ability is particularly important for the propagation of certain tree species. The dwindling numbers of tapirs have been linked to changes in forest composition, highlighting their importance in ecosystem dynamics. Their presence and seed dispersal activities help ensure the continued growth and diversity of the rainforest, making them a keystone species in these environments.

13. Worm

A worm is a small, elongated invertebrate animal living in the soil and decomposing organic matter. Worms benefit the environment by improving soil health and fertility through aeration and nutrient-recycling activities. Earthworms are nature’s decomposers and recyclers, breaking down organic matter like leaves and dead plants.

Worms and the environment

Worms positively impact the environment, as seen in their role in agriculture. Their movements result in tunneling, where the earthworms aerate the soil, creating channels that allow air and water to penetrate, benefiting plant roots.

Additionally, the waste produced by earthworms, known as worm castings, is a high-quality organic fertilizer rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. The presence of earthworms in agricultural land can significantly improve crop yields and soil health, which makes them an important aspect of sustainable farming practices and ecosystem health.

14. Ant

An ant is an insect that benefits the environment by aerating the soil, decomposing organic material, and serving as a key food source for many other species. They are distinguished by their antennae, strong mandibles, and a slender waist that separates their thorax and abdomen. Ants are found in almost every terrestrial habitat, from rainforests to deserts, and are known for adapting to diverse environmental conditions.

Ants and the environment

They are key in soil aeration and nutrient cycling because they dig and build their underground nests, which improves the soil’s quality. Their tunnels allow water and oxygen to reach plant roots more efficiently, benefiting plant growth. Furthermore, ants contribute to the decomposition process. They break down organic material, such as dead insects and leaves, which helps recycle nutrients into the soil.

Ants utilize a unique form of seed dispersal, a process known as myrmecochory. Many plant species have evolved seeds that attract ants, which then carry these seeds back to their nests. The seeds are planted in nutrient-rich environments, often ideal for germination and growth. This mutualistic relationship not only aids in the propagation of plants but also contributes to the diversity and health of ecosystems.

15. Elephant

An elephant is a large mammal that helps ecosystems through activities like tree felling and seed dispersal. They belong to the family Elephantidae and are divided into African and Asian elephants. Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals living in complex matriarchal societies within many environments, including savannas, forests, and marshes.

Elephants and the environment

Elephants help shape their habitats through their feeding and migratory behaviors. When elephants feed, they often uproot trees and shrubs, transforming wooded areas into open grasslands. This landscape alteration creates habitats suitable for other species and maintains the ecological balance between forested and grassland environments.

Moreover, elephants consume large amounts of fruits and vegetation, and many seeds pass through their digestive system unharmed. These seeds are deposited far from their source along with the benefit of natural fertilizer, increasing the likelihood of germination and growth. Their presence and activities support the diversity of plant life and the variety of animals that depend on these plants for survival.

How do animals adapt to different environments?

Animals adapt to diverse environments through several mechanisms, which include physiological changes, behavioral shifts, and genetic evolution. Physiologically, animals develop traits to cope with specific conditions. For example, camels in deserts have wide feet for walking on sand, humps for fat storage, and can endure long periods without water. In contrast, polar bears have thick fur and fat layers for insulation in Arctic cold.

Behaviorally, animals adopt strategies like migration and hibernation to survive. For example, birds such as geese migrate to avoid extreme weather and find food, while animals like bears hibernate to conserve energy during food-scarce winters. Genetically, species evolve over generations to better suit their environments. The Darwin’s finches of the Galápagos Islands are an example of genetic evolution as they evolved varied beak shapes to utilize different food sources.

These adaptations are vital for individual species’ survival and for maintaining the balance and diversity of different ecosystems and animals. These adaptations help animals survive and interact with other elements in the environment and animals around them.

How are animals and plants dependent on one another?

Animals and plants are interdependent, and each group plays a role in the other’s survival. Animals depend on plants for vital nutrients, such as oxygen and glucose. Plants produce oxygen and glucose through photosynthesis. Animals need oxygen to breathe and exhale carbon dioxide, which is necessary for photosynthesis.

Additionally, plants are primary producers in food chains, making them a direct or indirect food source for animals. Animals consume plants’ fruits, leaves, and seeds, which helps with plant reproduction by dispersing the seeds.

Moreover, animals and plants work together to maintain the ecosystem’s health. For example, animals like beavers and earthworms create and maintain beneficial plant habitats. Then, decomposers such as bacteria and fungi break down dead plants and animals, which puts nutrients back into the soil for plants to use.

Why do animals go extinct?

Animals go extinct because their species disappears or becomes functionally incapable of increasing in number. Extinction can be natural due to evolutionary challenges or driven by human activities such as habitat destruction, pollution, and overhunting.

Notable examples of extinct animals include the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon. The dodo was native to Mauritius and became extinct in the late 17th century due to overhunting and invasive species introduced by humans. The passenger pigeon was once abundant in North America but was driven to extinction by the early 20th century primarily because of overhunting and habitat loss. The dodo and the passenger pigeon contributed to biodiversity within their ecosystems, and their extinctions highlight the impacts of human actions on the environment.

How do extinct and endangered species differ?

Extinct and endangered species differ in that endangered species still have the potential to recover in number. Extinct species are those where the last individual of the species has died or is unable to reproduce. However, endangered species are those at a high risk of extinction but still have surviving members.

For example, the Carolina parakeet is an extinct species of neotropical parrot native to the United States. The colorful bird was declared extinct in 1939 after the last captive bird died in 1918. Conversely, the Amur leopard is an endangered species currently at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, poaching, and other human-induced factors. Still, conservation efforts are in place to protect the remaining population.

The distinction between extinction and endangerment is important because it highlights the urgency and possibility of conservation measures. For extinct species, the focus is on learning from their loss to prevent similar fates for other species. However, there is still an opportunity for intervention and recovery for endangered species, with efforts aimed at habitat protection, anti-poaching initiatives, and breeding programs to increase their numbers.

What can humans do to protect animals and their habitat?

Humans can take several actions to protect animals and their habitats, such as supporting conservation efforts and initiatives dedicated to wildlife protection. Engaging in sustainable practices such as recycling, using renewable energy, and reducing the amount of plastic used to lessen environmental impact is important in protecting animals and their habitat. However, it’s important to extend that sentiment to other practices. For example, responsible tourism, such as adhering to designated paths and not disturbing wildlife, helps preserve natural habitats.

Educating yourself and others about the importance of conservation and habitat threats raises awareness and prompts collective action. Try to enjoy your environment without damaging it or interfering with the delicate structure of the ecosystem.

Additionally, reducing your carbon footprint through using public transport and reducing energy consumption combats climate change, significantly affecting wildlife habitats. You can show support for climate activism by advocating for legislation that protects wildlife and habitats, such as laws against poaching and habitat destruction. Moreover, humans can try avoiding harmful products and creating more wildlife-friendly spaces in gardens or outdoor areas.

Can wild animals get used to humans?

Yes, wild animals can get used to humans due to habituation. Habituation occurs when animals continually encounter humans without negative consequences. The interaction leads animals to lose their natural wariness and fear and in some cases, even display friendly behavior towards humans.

Animals in urban areas or parks with frequent visitors may become accustomed to human presence. While this can lead to peaceful coexistence in some cases, it can also pose risks. For example, buffalo in the United States National Parks are used to humans, but close interactions lead to distress for the animals and injury for the humans involved.

Habituated animals may approach humans for food or out of curiosity. However, the reliance on food can cause these animals to become dependent on human-provided food, which can alter their natural foraging behaviors and impact ecological balance.

Are wild animals dangerous to humans?

Yes, wild animals are dangerous to humans. Wild animals are unpredictable and may act defensively if threatened, especially when their natural habitat overlaps human environments. For example, animals such as bears, large cats, and venomous snakes have the potential to cause harm or even be lethal.

Additionally, some wild animals carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. For example, a bite from the lone star tick is known to lead to alpha-gal syndrome, which causes a red meat and dairy allergy.

Humans must maintain a respectful distance from wild animals, understand their behaviors, and take precautions to avoid potential conflicts. This is especially true in areas where human activities encroach upon natural habitats, which increases interactions between humans and wildlife.