Vultures Prevent Millions of Tons of Carbon Emissions Each Year
September 23, 2022 12:05 PM   Subscribe

 
Baruzzi’s work has shown that the difference between ecosystems with and without vultures isn’t a subtle one. If vultures were around, “in two weeks, [carcasses] were usually gone,” she says. “Where we didn’t have vultures, they stayed there for more than a month and a half or two months—which is really striking.”

Damn.

The value of vulture services may be even more important in times of climate disasters or other catastrophes.

The phrase "vulture services" has caused me to imagine hearing a van pull up out front, and answering a knock on the door to find a vulture clad in a tyvek suit and holding a clipboard.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:25 PM on September 23 [13 favorites]


The side of the van would be emblazoned with "Vulture Services: Carrion dead things away since 1967."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:30 PM on September 23 [24 favorites]


If I ever get rich and wind up with a lot of land I would like to make it all go wild & cultivate a little family of vultures who fly around and do the Lord's work and then come scratching at my back door from time to time and you see me lovingly handing them scraps out of my apron on the porch.
posted by bleep at 12:32 PM on September 23 [9 favorites]


Vultures: Planetary Beano. This can only increase their social capital.
posted by y2karl at 12:49 PM on September 23 [4 favorites]


Thank you! I became interested in vultures years ago when spending weekends at friend's house in Michigan. His property line was a creek that fed into Lake Michigan. He had tall stands of Cottonwood trees and a variety of Oak and Ash growing along the creek. There was a flock of turkey vultures who made the tallest Cottonwood their evening roost. Underneath that and other Cottonwood trees were small collections of Paw Paw trees. I became interested in Paw Paw trees and their fruit. In going down that rabbit hole, I discovered that bees don't pollinate Paw Paw trees. Beetles and flies do, generally. Vultures, carrion, beetles & flies...my mind started connecting ecosystem dots. Everything was singing from the same choir book. I believe that there are sooo many unconnected dots out there. This article just put a couple together for me. This place we live on is pretty incredible.
posted by zerobyproxy at 12:54 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]


you see me lovingly handing them scraps out of my apron on the porch.

And, possibly, in the fullness of time, feeding them scraps out of your abdomen on the front lawn. After all their patient waiting, it’d be rude to die somewhere inaccessible!
posted by notoriety public at 12:55 PM on September 23 [10 favorites]


BRING BACK SKY BURIAL
posted by Tesseractive at 12:57 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]


The real reason I want to support a family of vultures is left to the reader.
posted by bleep at 1:00 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Pig farming is so passé. Not to mention the methane emissions!
posted by notoriety public at 1:29 PM on September 23


Is it vulture awareness day?

oop, nope that was the 3rd.

Happy belated Vulture Awareness Day!
posted by lkc at 1:33 PM on September 23 [4 favorites]


I love vultures!

If you hunt, please do not use lead ammo, as it is poisonous to these noble custodians!
posted by grobstein at 1:59 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]


I didn't realize that vultures had a "bad reputation"; I mean, I know the metaphor but I didn't realize the animal itself was thought badly of.

In my native India, there is a vulture crisis: in recent years, the vulture population has declined by >99%. Among the many problems this has caused is the harm to the Parsi community.
posted by splitpeasoup at 2:06 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]




Pro vulture.
posted by filtergik at 4:05 PM on September 23


Nature’s clean-up crew’
"Turkey vultures may vomit on a bird, animal or human if they get too close. It’s a defense mechanism and can be a powerful weapon."

I would gladly pay you tuesday, for a Turkey Reuben today.
posted by clavdivs at 4:40 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]




Where does this carbon go? The vulture is going to breathe and emit waste that will decay and release carbon, and eventually (not too long from now) die and decay.

Doesn't this just represent a fairly short-term deferment of CO2 release? Or are we assuming some sort of vulture Ponzi scheme?
posted by dsword at 5:29 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


If the vultures shift methane emmisions to carbon dioxide that's a net win.
posted by Mitheral at 6:39 PM on September 23 [5 favorites]


We live on a hill near a deep ravine and a vulture roost. They love to ride the thermals rising out of the valley. Such graceful wind-skimmers.
posted by zenzenobia at 8:01 PM on September 23


Carrion my wayward son
posted by nubs at 9:25 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Great post!
posted by lazaruslong at 12:19 AM on September 24




A few months ago, we were driving home after visiting friends in northern Indiana. At some point, I happened to look out the window and spied a large group of vultures on the ground absolutely feasting on some dead thing. They were really going at it.

I’d seen the occasional loner picking at some roadkill many times, but that was the first time I’d ever seen a large group circled around something and having a real picnic. It seemed very...joyous...somehow.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


The side of the van would be emblazoned with "Vulture Services: Carrion dead things away since 1967."

This plays out very much like a Far Side cartoon in my mind.

By the way, I have noted over the course of hundreds of airline flights that somehow it seems every voice on airport announcements renders “carry-on luggage” as “carrion luggage,” which leads me to expect more vultures hauling gazelle carcasses out of the overhead compartments.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:05 AM on September 24 [3 favorites]


I'm not getting how this works. I mean yes the corpses don't decay, but preservation of matter and all that, doesn't every bit of carbon return ti the carbon cycle when vultures exhale it or poop or die themselves?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:27 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


It seemed very...joyous...somehow.

Like this, probably?

"Hey, everyone, look at me, I'm a cowboy! Howdy! Howdy! Howdy!"
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:12 AM on September 24 [4 favorites]


I was thinking of that exact cartoon when I was typing my post. LOL
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


doesn't every bit of carbon return ti the carbon cycle when vultures exhale it or poop or die themselves?

The vultures are collected by the mothership and returned to their home planet orbiting Arcturus.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:22 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


dsword, if only…: I haven’t read the paper, but there are plenty of decay paths that can be either "all to atmosphere" or "keep some for soil organic matter/other macro-organisms". Vulture poop might be better fertilizer than fermenting meat and is almost certainly differently distributed, which can help a lot.

I used to work out in a sheep field and my lunches were shorter than I wanted because if I lay down for a little nap in the grass, under a blank blue sky, it wasn’t long before a shift in my hat brim showed a vulture circling way, way up. Then two. Just not… restful.
posted by clew at 10:30 AM on September 24 [3 favorites]


it wasn’t long before a shift in my hat brim showed a vulture circling way, way up. Then two. Just not… restful.

It was their lunchtime, too!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:41 PM on September 24 [3 favorites]


Here is the journal article. It is behind the Elsevier paywall. The part that was not clear in the Scientific American article was that the analysis considers total greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, and N2O) from the different disposal methods, converting them all to the equivalent greenhouse effect by mass of CO2 for comparison purposes. Due to the different microbial pathways involved, more anaerobic decomposition methods (composting, anaerobic decomposition, anaerobic digestion and rendering) produce more CH4 and N2O than the vulture's aerobic metabolism, and CH4 and N2O are much more potent greenhouse gases per unit mass than is CO2
posted by hydropsyche at 3:56 AM on September 26 [3 favorites]


I can’t see the article, but I’d be super interested to know what timescale the CO2, CH4, and N2O are compared on. Does this article cite other research, or is it a simple calculation that assumes ecosystem with vulture and ecosystem without vulture are both in steady-state in perpetuity?
posted by puffinaria at 8:59 AM on September 26


Rather than timescale, their units are just the total emissions for the complete decomposition of a carcass.

Yes, of course they cite a ton of research on different types of emissions under different conditions, including lots of specifics about the different effects of the different species of vultures and their individual species' abundance on earth relative to the decomposition services they provide.

The full article is not yet available there, but you can see the full references on Research Gate.

Here is an older, open-access article that seems to have been important foundation for the newer work.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:50 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


"Hey, everyone, look at me, I'm a cowboy! Howdy! Howdy! Howdy!"

I love this!!!
posted by grobstein at 11:04 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


« Older A food for unmarried men who didn’t know how to...   |   Women in Comics Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments