The word turtle implies to all the animals with a bony shell and a backbone, whether locally referred to as turtles, tortoises, or terrapins. They are the most common animals that have recognized universally as they are only commonplace animals.
They struggle to dwell in the modern world but that fact is generally unrecognized or ignored. Among the major group of vertebrates, turtles are the most threatened animal in the modern times. Of the 356 species of turtles worldwide, approximately 61% are threatened or already extinct.
The reason for the extinction of the turtles includes habitat destruction, unable to maintain excessive usage them as food and the commercial pet and climate change. Disease has also contributed to the rapid decline and near extinction of some turtle species. And the most important reason is humans have overused turtles as part of a subsistence diet since the development of Oldowan (an early Lower Paleolithic culture of Africa) stone technology in Africa 2.6 million years ago.
Turtles are useful in many ways to the environment. Here are some:
The populations of turtles made significant contributions to the biomass of their environment. Biomass (the total mass of organisms in a given area) is an important measure in ecology as it reflects the amount of available and stored energy in the plants and animals which occupies an ecosystem. The species with high biomass within an ecosystem result in a greater impact on the ecosystem process.
Biomass values of the turtles are higher in comparison to those of other vertebrates animals, reptiles, etc. At these historically high densities and biomasses, turtles had a major impact in their ecosystems. So, population declines of turtles can result in alteration of ecosystem structure.
Energy flow within and between ecosystems:
Turtles certainly play a role in the energy flow of their immediate and surrounding environment. Eggs of the turtles provide a significant redistribution of energy and nutrients between aquatic and terrestrial habitats as well as between turtles and their predators. The dried contents of turtle eggs are almost entirely protein and lipids. They transferred their energy, organic matter, proteins, and lipids to the surrounding environment (such as deposited to the soil).
Turtles are also particularly worked as scavengers. The scavenging value of turtles even has profound importance in the cleanup of rivers polluted by humans.
Mineral cycling involves the transfer of life-essential nutrients and elements from the environment to organisms and back to the environment. Studies found that turtles play a role in the calcium cycle of the environment. The role of turtles in mineral cycles also makes them excellent environmental indicators for chemicals of concern to human health. Additionally, turtles can have an enormous impact on soil processes including its formation, function, and maintenance.
The declines and extinctions of turtle populations globally mean that their ecological roles are now greatly diminished from times when turtles were more abundant.
Source: Oxford Academic – BioScience.