Pacia Purcell: Environmental News

“Hippo teeth reveal environmental change”

EurekAlert

Scientists from the University of Utah have released a study that shows how the loss of megaherbivores has affected the grasslands in African National Parks. The parks have seen an overwhelming decrease in the number of elephants due to poaching. Elephants live in grassland ecosystems. Grasses are C4 plants, which refers to the specific enzyme used to process carbon dioxide. Grasses compete for resources such as sunlight with other plants such as trees and shrubs, which are C3 plants. Elephants help to keep woody plants at bay. C4 and C3 plants have different isotopes of carbon, which when eaten by hippos these isotopes stay in teeth, allowing scientists to see what the hippos have been eating. Their results show that hippo teeth from more recent years have more isotopes found in C3 plants. They have concluded that because of the decrease in the elephant population, more woody plants have been able to overtake grasslands essentially changing the ecosystem of such areas.

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