Death, the last frontier. The great equaliser. Call it what you will, but through death you will find life. Let me explain:
As an example of the Nutrient cycle in working order, we will use our baboon scull in the front garden of Kaingo Private Game Reserve. This poor male died a few years ago. We can only speculate how; perhaps a rival ended a long and illustrious career in charge of the troupe. Or a leopard caught it unawares out in the open one morning. Or a wrong foot balancing on a cliff.
As soon as he died, a fascinating system was put into motion. Decomposition started very much right after his last breath. Primary decomposers, bacteria and fungus mostly, started to work on the body. Their job was to break down the body of the animal into useful parts so that the cycle of Life could continue. Secondary decomposers like the leopard eating the flesh of the baboon, the birds feasting on the few drops of blood left after, and the ants that strips bare the bones all have their part to play. Without them our world would be mummified after death. And earth can only have a finite number of mummies!
Which brings me to flies. Yes, those very irritating individuals that harbours disease, regurgitates food and then slurps it up again. These are probably the most useful decomposers in the bush! With their excellent eye sight, good hearing and phenomenal taste receptors, they can find a ready carcass in very little time. They lie their eggs in a carcass, the eggs develop into larva, which in turn converts our carcass into food. Many of the almost 364 species of the family Muscidae lives on dead and decaying material.
And then we get to fungus. This taxon is one of the least discovered on Earth. Yes, the Pota Bello you had for breakfast is made to decompose matter. Hundreds of thousands of fugal species lives around us, breaking down everything from a dead animal to concrete. These little fungi will start on the harder part of the body; the keratin on the hair and skin, and of course, bone. By growing and assimilating the nutrients out of the bone of a dead animal, they will weaken it to the extent that the bone becomes brittle and breaks into a thousand little pieces. This is important for the redistribution of nutrients like carbon and nitrogen into the system.
After some time, not a trace will be left of the carcass. But where did it all go?
Newtons first law states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change form and function. Our baboon has changed into the little Large leafed rock fig tree growing on the rocky ledge. And maybe that Rock aloe has some baboon in it, come to think of it… Every little bit of our baboon has been recycled and used by other organisms to create new life!
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