How & Why Are Elephants Keystone Species? How Do They Act As Keystone Species? – (Let’s Know)

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How are elephants keystone species?

Elephants are keystone species because they do act as Ecosystem Engineers by modifying, creating, and maintaining habitats for other species (both plants and animals) in the ecosystem to survive.

Yes, you can also say that elephants shape the ecosystem by playing a very critical role just in order to maintain the structure of the ecological community they are in.

In other words, elephants help disproportionately, impactfully, and largely just in order to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community while ensuring their own and other species’ continued sustainability in the ecosystem.

Although the Elephant population is too less as compared to the other animals living in the ecosystem but then so they are known to largely impact and affect many other organisms living in that ecosystem.

We will understand this thing more precisely and theoretically. So, just keep reading.

Elephants’ ecological role cannot be compared to that of the other animals that are a part of the ecological community.

They, in fact, highly impact other types of plants and animals that make up that ecosystem by indicating their respective ecological niches.


Thus, in the absence of a keystone species, many ecosystems would almost fail to exist.

Just, for example, the Asiatic and African Elephants being large herbivores help shape the ecosystem by destroying and feeding on the huge trees, plants, while making room for the grass species to grow.

This ensures the sustainability of the various other small herbivore prey species like goats, zebra, dear, buffaloes, etc. that feed on the grasses, while also largely impacting the growth of the prey species like hyenas, lions, tiger as well that feed on these small herbivore prey species.

So, you can see that without the presence of elephants in those ecosystems, the region will soon convert into a forest or woodland. And, this won’t support the survival of other small herbivore prey species, and also the predators.

So, the presence of elephants is a must for keeping the ecosystem a grassland ecosystem, rather than a forest or woodland ecosystem.

It’s all because the elephants destroy trees, making room for the grass species to grow, and thus turning the region into a grassland.

How elephants act as keystone species?

Elephants act as keystone species as they help shape the ecosystem by ensuring the balanced population growth and sustainability of other species either directly or indirectly by taking part in their specific ecological niche.

Elephants ensure the growth of grasses in their ecosystem and also help to maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species to survive.

They are integrally tied and take part to ensure the rich biodiversity of that particular place they are in.

They do so by grazing on the grasses and feeding on the various trees, plants, fruits that come on their way.

This impactfully helps to open up forest clearings and distribute the seeds of trees and shrubs through their dung from one place to another. This ensures the proper growth of new plants in the region overall.

You will find the presence of elephants in the regions of scrub and bushy forests, where both grasses and low woody plants and trees are available.

They feed on grasses, vines, shrubs, fruits, and also on the bark, roots, stems, and the leaves of trees.

And, for doing so, they destroy the trees by uprooting them and breaking the trunks, branches, etc. They do also eat on the grasses and small plants that come on their way.

This also ensures the clearing of the forests and making new room for the other grass and plant species to grow well.

In the Savanna ecosystem, it has been seen that the African Elephant break and uproot those trees like the Acacia tree, Baobab tree, etc. that grows to a height of a meter or more.

They can knock it over and uproot it. This feeding behavior maintains the savanna grassland and stops it from turning into a forest or woodland region.

So, it can be very clearly seen that as the over-grown grasses and shrubs are eaten and crushed by the elephants, new grasses start to thrive converting the majority of the region a grassland.

This largely influences the sustainability of the various grazing animals such as deers, impalas, antelopes, buffaloes, wildebeests, and zebras.

And, as the population of these grazing animals is maintained well, then this directly or indirectly impacts the sustainability of the various predatory species like lions, tigers, hyenas, wild dogs, etc. that make these grazing animals their prey.

Also, it has been seen that the growth of new trees and grasses also influences the population growth of smaller animals like mice, rabbits, moles, rats, groundhogs, and shrews that burrow and live underground in the soil and help in making the soil fertile and well-irrigated eventually for the growth of more plants and grasses.

Also, as grasses and new plants sustain and grow, this eventually influences the growth of various insects like bees, ants, bugs, etc. and also various other birds like ostrich, stork, crane, hawks, buzzards, etc. that inhabit the ecosystem and take part in their own ecological niche respectively.

Thus, you can clearly make out how these elephants shape their environment and help ensure the balanced growth and sustainability of the ecological community that not only includes animals but also plants.

So, it’s why and how the elephants act as keystone species and so they are also referred to as the ‘Ecosystem Engineers’.

Let’s Quickly Learn: Why are elephants keystone species?

Elephants are called Keystone Species because their presence shape-up and defines the entire ecosystem where they are in.

They play a critical role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystem in which they live in by ensuring proper balance in the various ecological communities.

It’s because, without the presence of Elephants the ecosystem may become unbalanced, different, or may also come to an end to exist altogether.

The presence of elephants can particularly have a large impact on an environment and the overall ecological community present there relative to its abundance.

Elephants help to prevent the negative consequences happening in an ecosystem. These negative consequences can be like over-growth of prey population than predators, or over-growth of predators population than prey, or turning grasslands into forests.

They help ensure the proper balance in the ecological communities by affecting the growth and sustainability of many other organisms within those ecosystems.

So, imagine a situation when all elephants are removed from their ecosystem, then it’s pretty much sure that the ecosystem may experience dramatic population shifts, and various negative ecological consequences like those mentioned above.

As facts say that the Elephants are so much important for the ecosystem that it has been estimated that at least one-third of the West African tree species rely on the African elephants for seed dispersal.

Let’s Know: What actually are keystone species? Why are keystone species important to the ecosystem?

Keystone species are referred to those plant, animal, fungi, or bacterial species that perform a top-notch ecological niche in the ecosystem and through their own activities ensures the balanced sustainability and population growth of all other species of the ecological communities there including themselves.

In simple words, you can say that Keystone species helps to add and glue together the various other species to a proper-balanced ecological habitat present in their ecosystem, where all the species have all the resources required for their own survival and growth.

Relative to their population count, keystone species are known to impart an extremely high impact on the particular ecosystem they are in.

And so, without the presence of the respective keystone species in the ecosystem can highly result in a dramatic change in the habitat, and also in the rapid rise or fall in the population of the various species living there, and can also result in the ecosystem to cease to exist altogether.

Keystone species are those species that help define and bounder an entire ecosystem by imparting disproportionately large effects on its surrounding natural environment relative to its abundance.

They help to keep the structure of an ecological community intact by causing a balance in the environment and also by determining the various species type and their population in the community.

So, keystone species by taking part in their respective ecological niches are important to the ecosystem as they shape the environment and help determine the relationship of the various species with the environment in a properly balanced way.

They are so important that without them the balance in the ecosystem will definitely break and this can eventually allow the population growth of new invasive species to take over the habitat thus, making it hard for the other local available species to survive.

How are elephants important to the ecosystem?

As we have learned so far all about how elephants take part in the ecosystem as keystone species by performing their respective ecological roles can answer this question thoroughly that how these animals are important to the ecosystem.

Here, I have listed some of the straight-forward points to indicate how elephants are important to the ecosystem:

1. Elephants help to maintain ecological biodiversity by acting as Keystone Species. Their role in the ecological niche help ensures the survival of all other species in the ecosystem thus maintaining biodiversity.

2. As they move they do clear the forests and dense grasslands, and thus makes room for new species of grasses and plants to grow. This ensures that the grassland ecosystem is kept intact in the surrounding by eradicating the tall tress and bushes.

3. Their trunk not only helps to grab small items but also to spread water all over the region which ensures proper availability of water to all other small species that live nearby. They also use their trunk to uproot huge trees and grasses that come their way.

4. They also use their tusks, which are a pair of bony teeth that protrude well beyond the mouths of elephants, to create water holes in the dry riverbeds and soil just in order to drink water during times of harsh environmental conditions. This helps the other animals as well as they are able to get water from those water holes.

5. Elephants also help to spread the seeds from one place to another in the region through their dung. This ensures the dispersal of seeds from one place to another and promotes the growth of new plants and biological habitats related to those plants.

6. Their dung also acts as manure for the grasses and other plants to grow well in the environment. This ensures that balanced greenery is present everywhere.

7. Some insects like the dung beetle feed on the elephant dung by taking it deep into the soil. This also increases the fertility of the soil.

8. As elephants ensure the presence of grasslands through their grazing activities, this largely impacts the sustainability of the various grazing animals like buffaloes, zebras, etc. and also the sustainability of the various predatory animals like lions, hyenas, etc. that make the grazing animals their prey.

9. Also as the elephants move, they as being very heavy animals press their legs against the soil so hard that make water holes leading to the coming out of the water through the damp soil and even from the dry riverbeds leading to the availability of water to the other small species living there in the surroundings.

10. Also as the elephants walk and graze, they press the falling flowers, seeds, fruits, and grasses so hard against the soil that they get well-planted leading to the growth of new plants and grasses sooner. This also makes these resources available to the various insects that live underground.

What type of keystone species is an elephant? What will happen to the ecosystem if elephants became extinct?

Elephants are the large herbivore mammalian keystone species that dominate the environment they live in with their part in their respectively ecological niche relative to their population count.

Elephants are considered under the ‘Ecosystem Engineer’ type of Keystone Species as they impactfully and largely take part in shaping the ecosystem by creating, modifying, or maintaining the surrounding natural landscape around them.

Elephants are known to influence ecological biodiversity by determining the species types and their population count in the community while ensuring their own and other species’ continued sustainability in the ecosystem.

They as Ecological Engineers aid in determining the activities of other organisms and thus help to define the overall biodiversity of their habitat.

All of the roles they do for the ecosystem help to engineer the ecosystem and the various other ecological communities prevailing there ensuring an overall balanced and proper biodiversity in that region.

In very simple words, you can say that elephants as ecological engineers can shape, build and rejuvenate natural landscapes and so resultedly the overall biodiversity. 

So, What will happen to the ecosystem if elephants became extinct?

If elephants become completely removed from their surroundings or their population drastically decreases, then it will largely impact a drastic change in the environment and will altogether lead to an imbalanced biodiversity and even eradicating the population of some of the species from the ecosystem.

Keystone species are those kinds of species that cannot share their ecological niche with other species and so they are very unique to their ecological niche or roles.

So, this also means that if the keystone species like elephants disappear or become extinct from their ecosystem, then it’s pretty much clear that no other species of that ecological community can take the role and match its ecological niche the same as the elephant did.

This will eventually cause various radical changes in the ecosystem that can either result in new invasive species populating the habitat, or leading to over-growth of prey population than predators, or causing the over-growth of predators population than prey, or can even lead to the turning of grasslands into woodlands and dense forests.

Thus, extinction of elephants can lead to breaking the ecological balance and cycle overall after a period of time.

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