In celebration of Shark Week at SeaQuest, each day we’ve featured fun and relevant educational facts about the Sharks of SeaQuest and insight into Why Sharks Are Important to our oceans. If you’ve missed the articles introducing the 5 species of sharks found at SeaQuest and our first installment of the importance of sharks, you can find them here:
Introducing The Sharks At SeaQuest
More Sharks of SeaQuest: Meet The Carcharhiniformes!
Why We Need Sharks 101: They Influence Healthy Ocean Populations
Today’s Topic: Sharks Maintain Balance In The Food Chain:
Another major benefit sharks provide in our ocean ecosystems is their affect on the food web. The food web is the natural interconnection of food chains in the world. Understanding this helps scientists discover what eats what and how the loss of a particular link in this chain could affect the entire food web as a whole. The food web is divided into four major groups: plants, herbivores, carnivores, and top predators. Here is a look into these four groups and how they interconnect.
At the bottom of the food web we have our biggest supporting group. Made up of countless billions of one-celled organisms are the photo-autotrophs or plants. Among this group is phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, which is the main diet for a large variety of marine animals. Found near the upper part of the ocean, they use photosynthesis to convert nutrients and carbon dioxide into organic matter.
Next on our food web are the herbivores that eat the plants. Varying from small crustaceans to enormous whales, the herbivores make up a large amount of the ocean’s inhabitants. No matter the size, all herbivores has voracious appetites keeping the overall plant and algae growth at a healthy rate.
Following the herbivores are the carnivores of the ocean. Moderately varying in size, these hungry fish eat the herbivores. Included in this group are some the species of sharks like the Grey Smoothhound Sharks which can be found at any SeaQuest location! While they are effective predators, they still fall prey to the larger, faster and stronger species of the ocean.
Finally, our top dogs the apex predators or top predators. Including a large number of larger shark species, these fierce animals get a bad reputation in the media. Considered to be ruthless predators of the ocean, this group is only prey to one species: humans.
The apex shark species of the ocean help keep the entire food web in balance. If the apex predators were to disappear from the ocean, the population of carnivorous fish would increase causing a decrease in herbivores. With less herbivores, the plant population would skyrocket making parts of the ocean inhabitable for many important food web species like coral.
The apex species also plays an important role in prey behavior. As an intimidating species, the apex predators will shift prey into hiding or into other areas of the ocean. This allows plants a chance to regrow and protects certain plant species from being completed eliminated by uncontrolled foragers.
A better understanding of the food web and the important role each group plays in maintaining balance in the food chain helps us recognize and appreciate the importance of sharks as carnivores and apex predators as well as how their loss could send shock waves through the entire food web.
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