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Raccoon Toilets Found To Create An “Ecology Of Fear” In Other Animals

Fear the raccoons and their toilet. Facanv/Shutterstock

Fear the raccoons and their toilet. Facanv/Shutterstock

Raccoons may be linked with trawling through your trash, but in fact, they are pretty hygienic animals. When many raccoons are residing in the same location, they usually like to poop in the same place. So such situation turns out the issue that these raccoon toilets would present an ecology of fear.

These piles of poop are officially called as latrines. They could  be either a big meal for some animals or a danger for others. The reason is that with their feces, the raccoons pass a great deal of nuts and seeds, which can turn out to be food source for those so inclined, but they are also full of parasites.

After several years spent on watching raccoon toilets closely , scientists have discovered that these latrines give an easy picking for some animals, but that many steer well clear because of the process known as the “ecology of fear”. The results have been released in Oikos.

This is where some animals will change their behavior or movements due to a perceived threat to their environment. In the instance of raccoon toilets, it appears to be the risk of disease and parasites. From camera traps, researchers found that while the strong rat would be happy to dive in and out of the poop chomping on bits of it, those species like birds and rabbits that can catch the roundworm raccoons carry steered well clear.

Scientists are slowly understanding about the way in which the ecology of fear is so prevalent and widespread, and how it can change not only the behavior of species, but also the geography and landscape of a place.

The most famous example is that introducing wolves into Yellowstone again, but a similar effect has also been discovered with the case of tiger sharks in Western Australia. These predators prowl the underwater meadows to seek for food, and it means that the turtles and dugongs that eat the grass are never in one place for a long period of time, and therefore the seagrass is never over-grazed.

This study went a little deeper to investigate how the ecology of fear was associated with that of parasites, in turn making assessment of the way in which disease could shape an ecosystem. When this is taken into consideration, it would be much helpful in trying to explain a lot of interesting riddles in ecology. For instance, the carcasses of herbivores are rapidly scavenged, while those of carnivores are left to rot, and thus are a better supply of nutrients for invertebrates and plants. The most likely reason is that other carnivores try to avoid the remains because of the high chance of catching diseases from them.

It seems that this behavior may be far more prevalent than is previously thought, and could be affecting a great deal of processes.

 

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