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Researchers wanted to prove in Shark Bay in Western Australia that sharks are indispensable for the ecosystem. Without sharks, the respective areas cannot recover from natural disasters, such as climate change, etc.

After the last heat wave in Australia in 2011, experts from the universities of Florida, Washington and Deakin started a trial: They already knew from previous studies that sharks help to influence the feeding behaviour of manatees and turtles by hunting them. As a result, the seagrass population does not continue to decline rapidly, but remains as an important habitat.

How did they approach the research?

Since the above-mentioned heat wave destroyed a large part of the seagrass beds, the manatees were briefly absent from the bay, which created space for the following study: the researchers took advantage of heat-resistant seagrass and calculated how grazing behaviour changes when sharks are no longer on site for regulation. The grazing of the manatees was imitated with the help of divers.

This allowed the researchers to find out that if sharks suddenly disappear or are no longer present in an ecosystem due to overfishing, the large seagrass fields cannot recover because the manatees would graze there too often.
This study clearly shows that when the species at the top of the food chain disappear, the ecosystem becomes unbalanced and the herbivores can graze and reproduce unaffected.

This shows us once again how important sharks are and that we need to protect them!

Sharkproject Germany (c) Gstöttner


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