A British pioneer of the science of ecology, Tansley, coined the term ecosystem in 1935. Different types of animals, trees, and humans are living on this earth. Plants are an essential part of an ecosystem, but there are some animals that feed on plants only. Are herbivores important to the ecosystem? What would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores? Let’s find it out.
1. What is an Ecosystem?
A structural and functional unit where different types of living and non-living organisms interact with each other and with their surroundings as well is known as an ecosystem. It is a chain of interactions among these organisms with their environment. It comprises biotic and abiotic components. (See Which is not a Physical Factor in Ecosystem?)
2. What are the Functions?
The ecosystem performs various functions.
- It regulates the flow of nutrients between the biotic and abiotic components.
- It controls various important ecological processes and helps in maintaining stability.
- It supports the life process and systems.
- The movement of minerals in the biosphere is controlled by it.
- The balance among various tropic levels is maintained within the ecosystem.
- The abiotic components present in it help in synthesizing the organic compounds. It helps in the exchange of energy.
3. What is the Structure of the Ecosystem?
The distribution of energy in our environment constitutes the structure of the ecosystem. All this also includes climatic components that are prevailing in that particular environment. Abiotic and biotic components are two main components of the structure of the ecosystem.
- Abiotic components – This comprises the non-living components of the environment like temperature, air, water, soil, minerals, wind altitude, etc
- Biotic components – It consists of all living components like heterotrophs, autotrophs, and saprophytes. It has producers like plants, consumers like herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, decomposers like bacteria, etc.
Looking for what would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores? We will come to that.
4. What are the Important Concepts related to the Ecosystem?
Everything works well if it’s in sync. This is the case with the ecosystem because every component must work together and provide for each other to enable a smooth ongoing process of life. Ecological pyramids, food chains, and food webs are important ecological concepts. Take a look below for a brief explanation of these concepts. (See What are Behavioral Adaptation of Animals?)
5. What is the Ecological Pyramid?
The representation of the successive trophic levels (different types of biotic components) in different levels of the triangle is known as the ecological pyramid. Starting from the base it has
- Primary consumers
- Secondary consumers
- Tertiary consumers (at the top)
- Quaternary consumers (at the top in some food chains)
For example, grass → eaten by worms → eaten by mice → snakes eat mice → Eagle prey on snakes. This is the horizontal representation of the different levels of the biotic components of the ecosystem. (See What is the Niche of the Deer?)
6. What is meant by a Food Chain?
The energy received from the sun is distributed and used by every component of the ecosystem. This energy is then transferred from one trophic level to another. This is known as the flow of energy. For example, green trees use sunlight as an ingredient to carry on the process of photosynthesis, herbivores consume these plants. These are then eaten by predators. Thus, the energy flowed from plants to the top of the ecological pyramid. This is how the food chain works. It can be affected as a result of what would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores. (See What are Few Examples of Producers Consumers and Decomposers?)
7. What is the Food Web?
Different food chains when interconnected together make a food web. It can also contain all the food chains in an ecosystem. All these food chains have plants as the foundation component.
An example of a food web is grass and plants → herbivores (goats) and humans → lions. Here you can see that there are dual components in each step. (See What Animals Eat Wheat?)
8. How will the Food Chain be affected without Herbivores?
Every food chain begins with the producers, that is, plants which are consumed by herbivores. Without herbivores, the most important step of the food chain will be missing because the energy from plants will not be transferred to animals and then to humans. It will affect the energy flow in the ecosystem. (See What type of Consumer is a Rabbit?)
9. How are Herbivores important to the Ecosystem?
Herbivores are animals that mainly feed on plants and their products. For example, cows, goats, deer, etc. However, they eat only plants, which helps in preventing the overgrowth of these producers (plants). Also, their munching and grazing help in the growth of some plants which are the source of nectar for pollinators. (See What Animal Eats Bananas?)
10. What would Happen in an Ecosystem without Herbivores?
If there are no herbivores, it means the plants and algae will over-grow. However, the producers (plants) will not be affected adversely as they are not dependent on herbivores for their food or energy as they receive their energy directly from the sun and soil. But the energy flow from herbivores to other biotic components of the ecosystem will be affected. (See What eats Owls in the Food Chain?)
11. What could happen if all the Herbivores died?
There will be no food for the carnivores, who mainly feed on plant-eating animals. For example, a lion eats deer. Herbivores are a source of food for omnivores like humans and some other animals and birds also. So, if all the herbivores died, this food chain will also be affected. Must read What Animal Can Defeat an Eagle?
12. What can be the Result if there are no Herbivores?
Ultimately, carnivores who primarily feed on herbivores will die out of hunger. This is because their system is developed for consuming meat only, and they cannot survive long by feeding on plants. Even if they somehow manage to change their system it is going to take a long time maybe decades for their bodies to develop and become adapt to this new diet. (See Where do Cows Live?)
13. How will their Absence affect the Climate?
There is much more about what would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores. Plants are the main regulators of the climate. If there are no herbivores on Earth, there will be an abundance of greenery everywhere. In the presence of herbivores and by human actions, the vegetation is rapidly decreasing which is adversely affecting the climate and causing less rainfall. But without herbivores and thriving vegetation, there can be a considerable change in climate with excessive rainfall. Maybe more than required and this can even result in a negative outcome of it. (See What are the Effects of Latitude on Climate?)
14. What if all Animals are Herbivores?
It will lead to the extinction of plants and vegetation from the face of the Earth. And in the end, when there will be no plants to feed these herbivores will starve or ultimately convert into carnivores to satiate their hunger.
So, the worst possible case of what would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores is the starvation of carnivores. Hope you understood how are herbivores important to the ecosystem, what would happen in an ecosystem without herbivores, or what could be the issue if all the herbivores died. (See How do Animals cause Erosion?)