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The Black Footed Ferret Biology Unit Final Assessment- by
Earth Think, We Need Your Help! My name is Michelle Geiszler, and I am an ecologist studying various ecosystems to ensure that all populations and species are still capable of survival. I recently discovered that the Black footed ferret is endangered! I have created a PowerPoint presentation for you that will hopefully have you considering how important this species is to the environment, and without it, it’s ecosystem could collapse! Please consider helping this amazing species with its survival. Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you enjoy learning from this presentation.
The Black Footed Ferret’s Ecosystem The ecosystem that the Black footed ferret lives in is a dry, grassland area underground in the burrows of prairie dogs. This ecosystem has biotic and abiotic components; an ecosystem needs both to sustain itself. Biotic factors include primary producers, herbivores, carnivores, such as the ferrets themselves, omnivores, like the prairie dogs, and decomposers, such as the insects that live in the dirt. Some abiotic factors include the dry soil, the darkness of the burrow, and the sunlight. Ecosystems are always changing, and are never the same, but they should be able to sustain themselves if nothing too dramatic happens.
Level of Organization The Black footed ferret, the organism, lives in a population of other ferrets within a short distance of each other. Their community includes the Black footed ferrets, prairie dogs, and other small rodents and insects. The Black footed ferret's ecosystem includes themselves, their prey, (prairie dogs, mice, jack rabbits, voles, and other small mammals) and their predators, (foxes, coyotes, owls, and other large birds) and they interact with abiotic components, such as dirt, sunlight, water, and rocks. Their Biome, is mostly dry grassland/desert like areas, where there are many of the ferret's prey that were mentioned earlier, as well as predators, but there would be more of them. The Black footed ferret's Biosphere is all of the ecosystems, except they don't reside in every ecosystem. They live primarily in grassland areas, but it would include their whole food web, as well as all of their residing locations, although they only live wild in Central North America.
Relationships The Black footed ferret has an important role in its ecosystem. First, sunlight gives energy to the plants, giving us fruit, grass, etc… the plants feed the smaller rodents, such as mice, gophers, and rabbits. Those smaller animals are prey to the Black footed ferret, as well as many other species. The Black footed ferret is prey to animals such as owls, foxes, and coyotes. Without the Black footed ferret this cycle would not be balanced; there could be overpopulation for the prey of the black footed ferret, and starvation for their predators. This could lead to the destruction of the ecosystem!
Black footed ferret - Food Web Black Footed Ferret Prairie Dogs Deer Mice Plains Pocket Gopher White Tailed Jack Rabbit House Mice InsectsPlants/Grass Owls Foxes Coyotes Fruit
About the Food Web As you can see, the Black footed ferret is involved in a complex food web. This means that if the ferret was to become extinct many different species from all food group levels would suffer because of the loss. For instance, the predators, the tertiary consumers, would suffer because they would no longer have that source of food, which could put them at risk. The ferret, the secondary consumer, would be gone. The prey of the ferret, the primary consumers, could become overpopulated and may exceed the carrying capacity, which makes disease easier to spread. Also, the group at the bottom of the demonstration, plants, insects, and other animals, which are the producers and decomposers, would suffer as well; they could become overpopulated or overgrown, which would not be healthy for the other species or the environment.
Interactions Black footed ferrets interact with both biotic and abiotic factors. They hunt prairie dogs, mice, squirrels, gophers, mountain cottontails, and voles. They are also prey to many animals, such as coyotes, birds, and foxes, which would mean that they are interacting with their predators. The ferrets interact with the dirt too, as they live in the burrows of prairie dogs. They also have contact with rocks, twigs, water, and oils.
Carrying Capacity Right now there are approximately 1,000 wild Black footed ferrets so their carrying capacity is not a concern, but some other species carrying capacity can have a major effect on the ferrets. Here are two examples of how serious keeping the population under the carrying capacity is: 1) In the 1900’s the carrying capacity of prairie dogs was exceeded. There were about 5 billion prairie dogs in Central North America. When the population of the prairie dogs was so high people put out poison to control them, which started dramatically decreasing their population. What they didn’t realize was the effect this would have on species such as the Black footed ferret. Now, there are about 10 million prairie dogs, a decrease of 98%, and the Black footed ferrets are in danger. 2) The desert areas where the Black footed ferrets live in are being demolished to build housing developments and businesses. This would cause a lower carrying capacity for the remaining species in that ecosystem, which could cause some species to exceed the carrying capacity. This could cause another disaster in the ecosystem, such as the one previously listed.
Support Carrying capacity helps us see if a species population is more than the ecosystem can handle, or if it’s able to sustain itself. As long as there is balance with the ecosystem’s population everything should be able to sustain itself. As you just read, if a population is over its carrying capacity there can be devastating results. If a species was overpopulated, disease can spread easily and there wouldn’t be enough food to sustain all of them, so many of them wouldn’t survive. If a species is endangered, some species below it in the food chain could become overpopulated, and that could endanger more than just themselves. Balance is something necessary in an ecosystem. Without it, more species could become endangered, or even extinct.
Population Timeline In the 1920’s it is believed that the population of the Black footed ferret may have reached 800,000 to 1,000,000. From the 1960’s-1994, the population had dramatically decreased and the species was considered endangered. In 1974 the wild population actually did die out and in 1979 the last Black footed ferret in captivity died, at which time the species was considered extinct. In 1981 the ferrets were rediscovered and were taken into captivity to increase their population. In 1987 there were only 18 recorded in the wild, and from 1996- 2004 the Black footed ferret was once again considered extinct in the wild. Now there are nearly 1,000 wild Black footed ferrets, but who knows what could happen. Another disease could spread through the species, they could continue to be effected by the poison, and their habitats could continue to be destroyed, which would result in their destruction as well. The graph shows that their population was very unstable, and that they might have thought that they had the population under control, but then it plummets, nearly causing them to become extinct. Yes, the population continues to grow yearly now, but in the 1920’s there was estimated to be around 1 million! You can never take nature for granted, which is why we have to continue being pro-active, and stop the Black footed ferrets from facing extinction for a third time. Please consider what you can do to help, before it’s too late.
Think About It… What would the long term effect be if the Black footed ferrets became extinct? Each ferret eats over 100 prairie dogs a year, do you think that their carrying capacity could be exceeded eventually without them? What other species are we endangering by “taking care” of overpopulated animals and destroying their habitats? When will we stop taking out forests, meadows, grasslands, etc… to build more houses and buildings? How much are we doing without thinking about the outcome of our decisions? Are we really helping nature as much as we think we are?
Causes of Endangerment The prairie dog’s population has dramatically decreased, and since they make up nearly 91% of the Black footed ferret’s diet, this is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The poisoning that is used to control the population of the prairie dogs, whose population should be higher, is killing off many of the ferrets. Also, the land where the ferrets live is being used for construction and other purposes, instead of letting the animals inhabit the area.
Solutions There are several ways that we could ensure the preservation of the Black footed ferret. My first proposal, is that there should be a law against the use of poison to control the prairie dogs. Since the prairie dogs are 91% of the ferret’s diet, they are greatly impacted by the poison. Another proposal is that we preserve more desert areas for the ferrets to live in. So much of their habitat is being demolished for building purposes, and this isn’t benefiting the ferrets, or any other species who live in that ecosystem. I know that you can’t reverse the building process to give them more land, but you can preserve the land that is still available. My last proposal for you is to find more locations where the ferrets could live, if the land where they currently dwell is needed. Couldn’t we build somewhere other than where prairie dogs and Black footed ferrets inhabit? Or if that location must be used, rescue the ferrets and let them continue to breed and populate in another area, such as a rescue center or zoo until they can be relocated in the wild.
Resources "Black Footed Ferret." Endangered Animals - Rare, Threatened and Endangered Animals & Mammals. 25 Sept. 2005. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.animalinfo.org http://www.animalinfo.org "Timeline." Blackfootedferret.org. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.blackfootedferret.org http://www.blackfootedferret.org "Black-footed Ferret an Endangered Species." Endangered Species and Endangered Animals at Bagheera. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.bagheera.comhttp://www.bagheera.com "Petition to Classify 3 Reintroduced Black-footed Ferret (Mustela Nigripes) Populations as Endangered." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.fws.govhttp://www.fws.gov "Black Footed Ferrets." Prairiewildlife.org. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://prairiewildlife.org http://prairiewildlife.org World Wildlife Fund - Wildlife Conservation, Endangered Species Conservation. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.worldwildlife.orghttp://www.worldwildlife.org "Black-footed Ferret." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org "Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Facts." Defenders of Wildlife - Protection of Endangered Species, Imperiled Species, Habitats. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. http://www.defenders.org http://www.defenders.org