The importance of scavenger animals in an ecosystem

September 8, 2015, 10:04 a.m.

These two coyotes are working clean-up duty on a bison carcass in Yellowstone National Park. Coyotes play an important role in an ecosystem not only as a key predator of rodents but also as scavengers.

Scavengers, including coyotes, crows and ravens, vultures and many other species of animal, play a major role in maintaining a healthy habitat. Dead animals are a health hazard to living animals, as they can spread disease -- but scavengers quickly break down the dead biomass, and everyone in the ecosystem benefits.

As National Geographic writes, "Because most scavengers are flexible about what they eat, they have an easier time finding food than creatures with more restricted diets. This sometimes makes scavengers better at adapting to new environments than other organisms."

This is certainly true in the case of the coyote, a species that has expanded its range across the North American continent and has learned to thrive in places from wild Yellowstone to the mean streets of major cities. Their ability to eat a wide range of food, as well as their ability to scavenge food when needed, is a big factor for their success -- and ultimately for the success of other species living in the areas they they inhabit.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.