While a decrease in biodiversity derived from the loss of any species of plant or animal is a problem that needs to be given attention, there are numerous keystone species that have a higher apparent impact on their surrounding environment. For instance, the phylum echinodermata and the bivalve mollusks have numerous key functions in supporting their environment. All organisms serve a purpose in the food chain, these animals however have roles in filtering water, removing organic debris or even as markers of levels of toxicity in marine environments (Dupont et al, 2010).
The echinoderms, comprised of sea stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers and others are a number of vital keystone species for a number of reasons. The monitoring of toxicity levels in marine waters makes them extremely important to ecological research. They are one of the few branches of marine life capable of serving as a marker for levels of pollutants in water and as such are indispensable to the research of the effects modern environmental policies have on the world’s waters (Dupont et al, 2010). Besides being obvious natural markers, sea cucumbers and sea urchins by their very nature, also filter and clean the water in which they live.
Along with the echinoderms, bivalve mollusks, in particular freshwater pearl mussels, play a vital role in the world’s ecology as well as the safety of humans. Along with being an important part of the diet of many people, mollusks are important for “particle processing, nutrient release, and sediment mixing,” (Geist 2010). Worldwide, mussel populations are dwindling due to alien species introduction, habitat degradation or predation. The quality of the world’s fresh water depends in large part on the success of this species to reproduce.
Biodiversity is a concept that is still not fully understood. The keystone qualities stated above may be only a small portion of the larger impact these species may have on their surroundings. It is impossible to tell with current technology the entire effect that the loss of any species may have. The resulting loss of the animals described here could, on the other hand, be tiny compared to the loss of some other lesser known species. In the end, conservation of all habitats must be practiced in order to protect the biodiversity of the planet.
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