My book, Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill, is all about Antarctic krill and the Southern Ocean food web. Most of the animals in the Southern Ocean – including whales, seals, sea birds, and penguins – gobble down tons of krill. Most of those that don’t eat krill themselves eat something else that eats krill (like orca eating penguins).
Krill are small, but very important. Learning about what eats what in nature can be a way to see how the plants and animals in an ecosystem are connected.
Another example are purple sea stars. These live from the coast of California to southern Alaska. They live in tide pools and eat mussels (and other things too). Without purple sea stars around to eat mussels, the mussels take over their ecosystem. They crowd out everything else. Then species like sea slugs and anemones can’t survive there anymore. If you take sea stars out of their ecosystem, most of the other species disappear too. Understanding one piece of that food chain helps us see how that whole ecosystem works.
You can learn about the ecosystem in your own neighborhood by figuring out the food chains. Start with one creature and see how far you can get. In my neighborhood, we have dragonflies in the summer. One great thing about dragonflies is that they eat pesky mosquitoes. With their four wings, dragonflies are great hunters. One dragonfly can eat dozens of mosquitoes every day.
But then, what eats dragonflies? Dragonflies get eaten by many animals, including birds, bats, and spiders. If you watch the birds outside, sometimes you can see them catch their food, including dragonflies.
Another animal I find sometimes is the ground beetle (carabids). Many of the carabids are black beetles. I accidentally dig them up when I’m gardening in the spring. Before, when I found them, I would wonder if I should squish them. Once I found out what ground beetles eat, I knew they were good to have around. They are predatory beetles that eat many garden pests, such as slugs and flies. Animals, like moles and toads, eat ground beetles. Ground beetles are nocturnal, and so are many of the predators that eat them. Learning about the ground beetle's place in the local food chain tells me about what other creatures might be coming out to hunt at night.
The next time you are outside, think about the creatures you see and how they are connected in the food chain. Understanding food chains can show you a lot about how an ecosystem works.
I'm happy Matt could share his love of natural history with us, today. In addition to writing STEMmy books for kids, Matt is a Minnesota Master Naturalist. You can find out more about him and his books at his website. And you can check out my review of Good Eating here.