Want to slow global warming? Save a sea otter. So says Chris Wilmers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, whose team has calculated that the animals remove at least 0.18 kilograms of carbon from the atmosphere for every square metre of occupied coastal waters.
That means that if sea otters were restored to healthy populations along the coasts of North America they could collectively lock up a mammoth 1010 kg of carbon – currently worth more than $700 million on the European carbon-trading market. Wilmers explained this at the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Canada, this month.
The figures are part of a growing realisation that predators play a crucial ecological role, promoting the growth of vegetation by controlling herbivore populations.