The Impact of Sea Otters on Marine Ecology Essay

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Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are marine mammals capable of spending their entire lives in water. Being carnivorous in nature, they feed on sea urchins, crabs, fishes, mussels and clams. They are referred to as keystone species due to their profound impact on marine ecology. The interaction between sea otters, sea urchins and kelp forests has been studied as a model of the impact of predator-prey interaction on community ecology. Sea otters are keystone predators, whose presence has a far-reaching influence on the marine food web by affecting the population of sea urchins in particular, and kelp forests & other marine organisms in general. There has been a steep decline in sea otter populations due to water pollution and exploitation for …show more content…
Kelp forests are “a source of food and habitat for dozens of other coastal species” (qtd. in Soulé et al 1240). Therefore, to maintain the diversity and richness of the coastal marine ecology, kelp forests should be preserved.

Impact of sea otters on community ecology
The presence or absence of sea otters influences marine ecology at the community-level. Studies have shown that kelp forests enhance the underwater environment, providing a suitable habitat for fishes. The declining kelp beds in California in the mid 1900’s propelled the Kelp Habitat Improvement Project, whereby attempts were made to eliminate sea urchins that are primary predators of kelps. Studies showed that the elimination of sea otters during the 1800s from the Californian waters might be responsible for the dwindling numbers of kelp forests. Further studies have also shown that the population density of sea otters affects seaweed biodiversity as well. In a study conducted in Alaska on three different bays, the Torch Bay, Deer Harbor and the Surge Bay, it was found that the presence of sea otters led to a decrease in the population of sea urchins, which led to an increase in the population of seaweeds. In addition, it was also found that annual kelps predominated the areas where sea otters were present, and perennial kelps predominated in areas that had lesser sea otter populations (qtd. in “Interaction with kelps & sea otters”). As is evident, sea otters are
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