Less poop is bad for the planet

“This diagram shows an interlinked system of animals that carry nutrients from ocean depths to deep inland — through their poop, urine, and, upon death, decomposing bodies. Here, the red arrows show the estimated amounts of phosphorus and other nutrients that were moved or diffused historically — and how much these flows have been reduced today. Grey animals represent extinct or reduced densities of animal populations.” (Image and text: PNAS; design by Renate Helmiss & University of Vermont press release).

I just read a very interesting press release describing a new study conducted at the University of Vermont that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study researchers demonstrated that the excrement of large land animals and whales plays a major role in maintaining the fertility of the planet. This is because their feces helps to transport nutrients across the ocean as well as on land. Therefore, the decline in numbers of large marine mammals may dramatically affect the recycling of nutrients and thus the ecosystem. In fact, their calculations suggest that the capacity for animals to transport nutrients away from so-called hotspots is currently just 8% of what it was at the end of the most recent ice age when 150 large mammalian species went extinct. Phosphorous transport from the ocean to land has also dropped over 75% because of recent losses in large marine mammals, such as whales.

Maybe that explains why my vegetable garden will not grow…


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University of Vermont


  1. #1 Van
    Winnipeg Canada
    November 12, 2015

    The city of Montreal is currently dumping 8 billion liters of raw sewage into the St Lawrence River. Oceans and rivers are still routinely being used as toilet bowls and as garbage dumps. Meanwhile in Israel, treated sewage is turning worthless desert land into a productive forest. Couldn’t this be done to reclaim some desert land in California, Nevada, or new Mexico or Arizona?