River otters are not that long-lived; the oldest female in this study was 12 years old, the oldest male, 13. Kelp also protect coastlines from damaging wave action. Sea Otters play an important role in the ecosystem, and may even be mitigating some of the harmful environmental impacts of human activity. The sea otter, a voracious urchin-eater and possessor of the densest fur in the animal kingdom. The sea urchin population decreases, and the kelp population decreases C. Essay by Emma Yesenia P.R. Sea otters use rocks to crack open their prey as fast as 45 blows in 15 seconds. These small urchins also readily devour kelp, and if their numbers swell, they begin to thin out kelp forests. For example, one sea otter can consume 10,000+ large crabs per year. We don’t want to be inadvertently killing them with our cars. They are an irreplaceable organism to achieve the balanced ecosystem functioning, and yet, the population of these gentle creatures is threatened by commercial fishing, loss of the nesting habitat, as well as, climate change. They leave behind desolate areas called urchin barrens. Dispose of hazardous wastes properly. With fewer crabs to prey on them, grazing invertebrates like sea slugs become more abundant and larger. Underwater forests of kelp provide an environment for numerous species of fish and invertebrates. The influence of sea otters in the Aleutian Islands is well-known. This allows kelp bed forests to grow and increase marine fauna density and diversity, which aids in the development of new ecosystems. Kelp forests provide food and shelter for large numbers of fish and shellfish. It makes its home in a burrow near the water's edge, and can thrive in river, lake, swamp, or estuary ecosystems. sea otters Climate change, predators, and the trickle down effects on ecosystems Ecologists are just beginning to understand how the impacts of climate change are affecting predatory keystone species and their ecosystems. A. Unfortunately sea otters are having to fight off more than just predators to survive these days. They are predators, meaning they help control the populations of food species they prey upon. In a kelp forest, sea urchins can graze on the kelp and eat their holdfasts , resulting in deforesting the kelp from an area. Southern sea otters can live to approximately 15 years for males and 16 years for females. Sea otters are what is known as a keystone species. The kelp itself p lays an important role in capturing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the coastal ecosystem. Sea Otters as a Keystone Species. Climates are changing rapidly due to the human-caused accumulation of greenhouse gases (in particular carbon dioxide) preventing the release of radioactive waves away from Earth into the atmosphere leading to a gradual warming of the planet (Benestad 2016). 6. Otters … “We need to manage the return of sea otter populations if we’re going to save this ecosystem,” Rasher said. For example, they prey on sea urchins, which reduce grazing pressure. This affects the ecosystem as a whole, and as a result, their presence is a signal that the ecosystem is healthy. Sea otters prey on a variety of sea animals, and this can end up influencing the marine ecosystems that they live in. The sea otter ecosystem is largely made up of thick kelp forests. Their feeding, reproduction, behavior and adaptations are features that catch people's attention. These crabs like to feed on seagrass in their marine community. When otters are present, urchins hide in crevices and snack on kelp scraps. When sea otters were removed from this marine ecosystem, coastal crab populations were allowed to explode. As otter populations recovered, these changes worked in reverse as the otters’ doings as a top predator flow down through the ecosystem. Thus, sea otters control the abundance of crabs and crabs control the abundance of seagrass in their oceanic ecosystem. In places where sea otters have disappeared, sea urchins will eat the kelp forest until it’s gone. This can translate into a large amount of their prey removed from the ecosystem. An ecosystem is like a community, and like any successful, healthy one, everyone is embraced for their unique contributions! 1. Restoring sea otters, however, is a regional effort that has the ability to mitigate reef erosion by urchins, and pull the ecosystem back from its tipping point. Otters help protect kelp from sea urchins, which in … Sea otters are known to use stones as hammers to break shells. What we just saw with the otters, sea hares, and eelgrass is called a trophic cascade: when the removal or addition of a top predator drastically changes an ecosystem.. However, human affects have altered some top down and bottom up controls on this community. Fortunately, sea otters have an appetite for urchins. Sea turtles have their place in this delicate network of life-providing services as well. The otters help keep urchin populations in check, allowing kelp to flourish and capture more CO2. Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), also known as California sea otters, have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1977. The sea otter is an important part of both of these habitats — It’s a keystone species, which means that the health of sea otters is a good indication of the health of other species and ecosystems nearby. The sea otter is covered in dense fur that consists of two layers. The sea otters don't directly affect the seagrass, but they do eat enormous amounts of crabs, dramatically reducing the number and size of crabs in the slough. Now that you know how vital a sea otters’ role in the ecosystem is and why they’re threatened we want to let you in on 12 simple steps that will help to maintain and hopefully increase sea otter populations. The otters, despite being very small, have impressive behaviors. However, these smaller urchins are a favourite food of sunflower stars. Urchins eat kelp, and sea otters eat sea urchins. The sea urchin population decreases, and the kelp population increases B. Sea Otter Natural History. The playful North American river otter is equally at home in the water and on land. As mentioned previously, sea otters like to feed on crabs. Photo / iStock. Sea otters have been found to play a pivotal role in the habitat and marine life that inhabit a kelp forest . They feed on sea urchins that feed on kelp. In California's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the sea otter is a keystone species in the kelp forest ecosystem. Though sea otters receive plenty of well-deserved attention based on their pleasing appearance, focusing on their integral role to a healthy ecosystem and the services that ecosystem provides to mankind is a point worth making when confronted with the narrow economic interests of commercial shellfishers. Their consumption of sea urchins, in particular, plays a critical role in the underwater ecosystem.