By Bill Hawks
Why Are Sea Otters Important
Sea otters are loveable flurfy snuggle-butts, and what is called a keystone species, keystone species are animals that are crucial to the ecosystem; like a keystone in an arch/bridge, a good example of this, (besides sea otters) are sea stars, which keep the levels of seaweed healthy, therefore, sustaining all that rely on the seaweed for food. Sea otters live in kelp, sea urchins eat kelp, sea otters eat sea urchins, dozens of species depend on the kelp for shelter, therefore, without sea otters, sea urchins destroy kelp forests.
Hunting to near extinction by humans *what a surprise!* and not being able to rebound properly. Luckily that ended in the early 1900s
Human adjacent issues (ex. Oil spills, pollution, fishing/bycatch)
More on Keystone Species and how They Impact the Ecosystem
Not all keystone species are aquatic. Some animals are keystone prey, hosts, nutrient vectors (also called Keystone links),or even keystone mutualists! Okay, wait, what the heck are those!? I know, just let me explain.
Keystone prey are animals that, despite being heavily preyed upon, maintain a large population, such as wildebeest, whom are preyed on by lions, crocodiles, and several other predators.
Keystone hosts are mostly plants, they provide shelter and sometimes even prey to keystone species; a great example would be kelp forests and sea otters, as sea otters live in kelp forests, however they would not if it weren’t for sea urchins, one of the few that prey on kelp, and prey to sea otters.
Next, are keystone links (nutrient vectors), grizzly bears eat salmon, grizzlys can go further inland/away from water before eating that salmon; salmon carcasses are left to decompose, this fertilizes the soil around it!
Keystone mutualists are two or more species that work together to benefit the ecosystem, a perfect example of this would be in Patagonia, where the green-backed firecrown pollinates 20% of their local plant population, while the green-backed firecrown pollinates the plants; the plants feed it, a hummingbird’s diet is almost entirely nectar; this exchange is a win-win experience for both of them!
Because you deserve this in your life, here are some live sea (and river) otter web cams, that will ensure you have a good day!