What Is The Ecological Role Of Crocodiles?

By Victor Kiprop on December 27 2019 in Environment

Crocodiles are apex predators in their ecosystem.
Crocodiles are apex predators in their ecosystem.

Crocodiles are found in Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. The smallest of the 13 species is the dwarf crocodile, while the largest is the saltwater crocodile. They feed on birds, frogs, crustaceans, fish, and other animals. Wild crocodiles ambush and clamp down prey before crushing bones and flesh using their massive jaws. The reptiles have undergone minimal evolutionary change for the past 30 million years and still possess the same skills and features as their ancestors. Crocodiles play a vital role in maintaining the balance of an ecosystem.Ecological Value Of CrocodilesCrocodiles are essential in maintaining the diversity and productivity of wetlands. They maintain a healthy aquatic population by eating ailing fish, thus allowing healthy ones to regenerate and grow without competition or the risk of contradicting diseases. They also regulate and prevent the dominance of a single fish species. Crocodile droppings serve as nutritious food for fish. Caimans and crocodiles in the Amazon damage gillnet, enabling fingerlings and small fish to escape while allowing fishermen with lines to catch large fish. 

Ecologists argue that the extinction of crocodiles could disrupt ecological processes and damage the ecosystem. Wetlands in the Philippines suffer from pollution, flow modification, habitat degradation, invasive species, and over-exploitation. In the 1970s and 80s, watersheds in Asia were logged, rivers dammed, and the marine population decimated by dynamite, electricity, and pesticides. Crocodiles in these ecosystems died of starvation or migrated to other regions. Consequently, fish populations declined drastically, and the local people suffered economically. In the 1990s, conservationists began educating the local people on the importance of crocodiles, arguing that their excrement act as fertilizer and food for fish.

Nature’s Garbage Disposal

Crocodiles and other members of the Crocodilian family have a ferocious digestive system that is immune to bacteria, viruses, and microbes. Research has revealed that the reptiles are resistant to HIV. This immunity and their ferocious eating habitats make crocodiles the guardians of the freshwater ecosystem. They feed on every part of a prey preventing flesh from decaying and spreading harmful infections. Crocodiles can recover from unimaginable injuries that would be fatal to humans and other animals. So many of these animals exist without missing legs and deep scars in their bellies Despite their resistance to natural infections, crocodiles are vulnerable to human activities and chemicals. They are extremely sensitive to fertilizers, pesticides, and pollutants, making them an early-warning system to excessive pollution. 

Crocodile's As Apex Predators

Both the freshwater and saltwater crocodiles are apex predators. They deter fish and marine animals from overcrowding and degrading the ecosystem. During the dry season, crocodiles guard critical water points against terrestrial animals and help preserve marine life for future regeneration. The saltwater crocodile lays between 40 to 60 eggs, while Nile crocodiles can lay up to 85. They cannibalize their own young to prevent the population from overpopulating and overstraining the ecosystem.

Relation With Humans

Encounters between humans and crocodiles are often fatal. They consider humans prey and hunt then same way they ambush other animals. The Nile and saltwater crocodiles kill hundreds across Africa and Southeast Asia, but cases among the American and mugger crocodiles are fewer. The species is protected in many countries, but it is commercially farmed for hides to make leather products such as handbags and shoes, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries. The Nile and saltwater crocodiles are the most preferred by farmers for their size, while a hybrid of the two species is common in Asian farms. Crocodile meat is a conventional diet in Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Africa, and an exotic delicacy in the West.

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