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  • Sara Thompson

Detritovores, Decomposers Needed for a Healthy Environment

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Pollinators are essential for keeping our plant life alive and thriving. However, worms, beetles, flies, and other creepy crawlies are often frowned upon and often exterminated. Associated with death and decay of plant life gives these creatures a bad reputation and are avoided in most circumstances. Even though these creatures have a bad reputation, they are just as important as pollinators to the ecosystem.

When leaves fall from trees or plants wither and die, they need to be recycled into the environment, otherwise they would continue to pile up and up each year. Named for eating detritus, detritovores are the ones that help to break down the decaying plant matter and help to restore it to the soil for recycling. There are countless detritovores, but the most recognizable ones are worms, millipedes, springtails, woodlice, and slugs. These creatures live in and eat dead leaves and other decaying plant life. Many of the detritivores will eat the dead leaves and the surrounding soil and will excrete a small pellet that gets mixed in with the surrounding soil to help with nutrient replacement. Worms moving through the soil also helps aerate it, furthering to help with gas exchange and soil health.

Detritovores are not just terrestrial but are also located in our waterways as well. Marine vegetation and fauna also need help decomposing and that is where marine detritovores come in. Creatures like sea cucumbers, some sea stars, and fiddler crabs will eat and help to break down the dead vegetation and larger animals that sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Decomposers also help with the breakdown of detritus, but they use different means. Where a detritovore with manually eat the dead plants with a mouth or mouth-like apparatus and have organs used in digestion, a decomposer will use chemical and cellular means for breaking down the detritus. Decomposers like fungi, bacteria, and protists and will use external means for the breakdown of nutrients. They do not need a mouth or organs to get the nutrients they need to survive and leaving the remaining nutrients to be reabsorbed into the soil. Algae mats and other microscopic organisms are decomposers in the ocean.

Even though the organisms that are detritovores and decomposers are often creepy to look at and are associated with dead and decay, they are an essential part of any ecosystem. Without them the breakdown of dead plant life would take much longer, and nutrients would not be recycled back into the soil.


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