Urban Neighbors- biodiversity in urban Los Angeles
Los Angeles growth and urban sprawl
Los Angeles is a thriving city with a population of just over 9.8 million. The city spans 4,751 miles and is made up of a variety of ecosystems including the coast, desert, and mountains. Many of these areas are protected including the Santa Monica Mountains National Reserve, Angeles National Forest, and the Los Padres National Forest. Until 2010, Los Angeles had continually experienced population growth and sprawl as a result, however, over the past five years people are moving toward a denser living situation. Even though the population is still growing, buildings are getting taller and the population is moving toward a life filled with easy access, walk-ability and convenience.
The population growth, development, and sprawl have led to many issues pertaining to wildlife. Wildlife populations are becoming isolated and fragmented from other populations due to development of homes, roads and businesses; food supplies and habitat have also been greatly affected (Parker, 2015). This ultimately causes conflict with humans and does not fare well for the animals as they are seen as dangers or threats. These isolated populations, inbreeding, and lack of resources will eventually lead to a population crash (Dar, et al, 2009). Biodiversity, which is simply the diversity of species, is critical for a healthy ecosystem. In order to coexist harmoniously with our wild neighbors, we must first understand them better.
Biodiversity- diversity of life
Biodiversity is the richness and diversity of life. It boosts ecosystem productivity, where we can see that each species, no matter how small has an important role to play. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life on Earth. A critical part to any ecosystem are carnivores, in Los Angeles, these include the mountain lion and coyote. The loss of large carnivores means prey animals increase, including pests (Athreya, et al, 2013). Additionally, an increase in herbivores will result in deterioration of the environment from over grazing. Carnivores are in grave danger, particularly in urban areas (Belaire, 2016). At least 13 mountain lions have been killed by road collisions since 2002 in the greater Los Angeles area (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson, 2001). It is the number one cause of death for mountain lions in the area. There are only thought to be approximately two dozen currently residing in the entire area. This includes the famous P-22 who miraculously crossed three highways to end up in Griffith Park. He is largely safe there with a decent food supply, but what happens when he gets ready to find a mate? He will need to leave the park, and that will be a dangerous path with little chance of survival.
Coyotes are also in danger. Conflict with humans is on the rise and this is due to habitat loss, lack of reliable food sources, and their ability to adapt to urban areas easily (Parker, 2015). Should conflict with humans arise, such as a bite or other type of attack, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife typically resort to killing coyotes (Caro, et al, 1994). While tranquilizing and relocating is an option, it is not typically used. These methods coupled with increased road collisions continue to deplete the coyote population and as a result, carnivore presence is on the decline and will continue to decline (Parker, 2015).
What is in your neighborhood?
Photo courtesy of Pinterest
There is a variety of wildlife right here in Los Angeles, many of them we see every day. Others remain more elusive, but each play a critical role in our ecosystem. The barn owl is responsible for consuming over 3,000 rodents per year and contrary to what some may think, owls are not threatening to pets as they only eat small rodents (Parker, 2015). Yet, despite their value, the number one threat to owls is through secondary exposure to rodent poisons.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Coyotes earn a bad rap as they are considered by many to be destructive and dangerous urban carnivores and can thrive essentially anywhere. However, coyotes are actually omnivores, they consume rabbits, gophers, fruit, nuts, and more. They are perceived as a nuisance and thought to get into trash bins and cause destruction in neighborhoods. While this may be true in certain instances, it seems they actually prefer their natural diet (“Keep Me Wild: Coyotes”, n.d.). Their number one is car collisions, followed by secondary exposure to rodent poison.
Photo courtesy of the National Geographic
The mountain lion is the largest carnivore in Southern California and consumes deer, rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, and other small to medium mammals (Lepczyk, et al, 2004). This majestic creature is facing extinction in the LA area with only a few dozen remaining. The greatest threats they face are road collisions and a lack of genetic diversity to keep populations thriving.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest
The opossum is the only marsupial in North America and is considered to be nature’s cleanup crew consuming roaches, slugs, snails, and rodents (Parker, 2015). Many perceive them as menacing, but in reality, they are non-threatening with poor eyesight and as a result, would have great difficulty chasing after you. Their number one threats are dog attacks and road collisions.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest
Raccoons, bats and squirrels...oh my!
Raccoons thrive in diverse environments and are quite intelligent as they are able to open latches, cabinets, doors, etc. They consume birds, rodents, garbage, pet food, and fish from decorative ponds, essentially choosing any easy prey. Many Los Angelenos do not realize there are six species of bats in the area. Bats play a vital role in seed dispersal and pollination; some are fruit eaters, others are insectivorous. Bats can consume as much as 1,200 insects per hour (Caro, et al, 1994). This natural pest control allowed over $24 million to be saved in pest control methods in agricultural areas (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson, 2001). These creatures are highly misunderstood, many killed out of fear if they enter your home or neighborhood, and by entanglement in fruit nets that are set up to protect fruit trees.
Squirrels also are seen as pests, but they are actually masters in pest management. Their diet primarily consists of nuts, fruit and insects and they are known to bury food for later, but do not always remember where they buried it, and as a result, countless trees and plants have been inadvertently planted and grown from the poor memory skills of a squirrel. Their largest threat is road collisions. Each animal plays a vital role in our biodiversity and ecosystem, yet each face a common threat, all from human conflict. Why does biodiversity matter to our local ecosystem?
How can we keep LA wild?
Keeping Los Angeles wild will require an attitude shift on the part of the people who live here. Taking extra steps to ensure your home is secure, garbage bins are sealed and your property is rodent poison free are just a few ways to support coexistence. Residents can get involved with local advocacy groups and city council. Support bills and ordinances that protect wildlife and connectivity, and talk to your local representatives. Make your voice heard in your community, become an advocate for the animals, and pledge today to start with one thing. Choose one behavior to change today that will positively impact our environment and ecosystem to keep LA wild. What will it be?!
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