Continuing from my last post, there are some really important systems wherein some of the critters that take up their residence within the Uwharrie participate in. Without them, its likely that the entire area (thats 50,645 acres) would totally fall apart! So, this post will be entirely dedicated to explaining those creatures and systems, so that we can collectively acknowledge and appreciate all of the work, much of it unseen, that they do to keep our ecosystem alive.
All of this information is taken from the same natural history museum that I visited during my time at the Forest, since I was unable to do any research like this from my own observations during a such a short period of time, and with little to no prior understanding of these intricacies.
Spreaders are vitally important to the ways in which the natural world functions, survives, and ultimately thrives. Many animals, such as the Possum (briefly mentioned in my previous post), which is North Americas only native marsupial, play a huge role in spreading the seeds of plants by eating them, and then passing them later, likely at a different location, as fecal matter. In fact, some seeds will only grow if they have been on a journey through the intestinal system of an animal. Many seeds operate like tiny bits of velcro that can then temporarily attach to fur and feathers. Some animals store the seeds underground, which, when forgotten, results in sprouts when Springtime arrives.
Plants act as the nurseries for many animals reproductive activities. Some insects, like moths and butterflies, are only able to lay their eggs on very particular plant species. Trees and shrubs provide the structures necessary for birds to build their nests and for spiders to build their webs. Oak apple galls act as nurseries for oak apple gall wasps. The leaf of the oak will mutate once the wasp lays its egg inside of it, and then a gall grows, which provides food and protection for the larvae.
Parasites often, and sometimes shockingly, play important roles in natural communities that are essential for keeping the community healthy. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that is abundant at Morrow Mountain. The way that mistletoe grows is by a root grabbing onto the bark of a host tree and feeds on it for the entirety of its life.
These creatures help to keep populations in a healthy number, which is why poaching birds of prey or big cats is such a horrible pass-time to endeavor in. Without these creatures, populations of herbivores like deer or rabbits will rise in number exponentially and cause extreme environmental problems. Many predators have adaptations that are very specific in order to help them hunt prey more swiftly and efficiently. Many of these adaptations are enhanced sense of smell, sight, or hearing, long talons or claws, inclination for speed, or other things that grant them possible situational advantage when hunting.
Decomposers can be both animals or plants, which makes them a very interesting group of habitat contributors. Mushrooms and maggots are just two of many examples of types of decomposers you might find in a forest such as the Uwharrie. Decomposers are vital participants in the organizational hierarchy of the habitat because they clean up waste such as feces, carcasses, fallen leaves, and other bits that smell or get in the way of the other elements of the environment.
Many living things exist in this world as competitors against one another. We compete for vitamins, water, and food, at the core of our existence, no matter in what way we go about getting those things. The Brown-headed cowbird that was mentioned in my last post does not build it’s own nest or raise their own young, but rather, will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and allow the chicks to be raised by the other bird in whose nest the cowbird has laid its egg. This is actually a very unique method of competing with other species and is known as “nest parasitism.”
Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, come the pollinators. Plants produce flowers with nectar or other sweet smelling components for the sole purpose of enticing pollinators to pay them a visit and carry their pollen from one place to the next. One of the most well known, loved, and now endangered pollinators is the bumblebee. Bumblebees are hairy all over, and have long tongues that help them to suck the sweet nectar from the plants. Due to the fuzziness of their bodies, bumblebees actually produce static energy while in flight, which helps them to pollinate other flowers they land on.
I feel as though this is especially important to mention due to the rate at which our natural world is declining or the ways in which it becomes susceptible to declining further each day. These systems, although sometimes invisible, and perhaps seemingly insignificant to some, are vitally important if we want to remain comfortable and happy as humans, functioning beings, and members of that very same environment. We benefit and are granted life through each and everything that these creatures do, and this needs to be uplifted not only intentionally and sporadically, but with each and every breath or step we take.