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Wildebeest Windfall

June 20, 2017

Unlucky wildebeests play a big role in African river ecology.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A wildebeest windfall.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Each year, thousands of Serengeti wildebeests drown while crossing the Mara River in Kenya. It’s just a small portion of the over one million that migrate. But according ecologist Amanda Subalusky at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the drownings are critical to the Mara River ecosystem. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she and colleagues at Yale report that some of animal carcasses immediately become fish food, while the bones break down slowly over many years.

AMANDA SUBALUSKY (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies):

They provide kind of a long term, slow release nutrient pellet in the river system, that appears to be really important for growing algae that’s fed upon by fish.

HIRSHON:

She says influxes of nutrients from migrations like these are important parts of vast river ecosystems, affecting many thousands of far-flung species. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon