A recent study has shown the importance of echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) in maintaining the fertility of Australia’s depleted soils.
A team of researchers and scientists from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland headed by Dr. Christofer Clemente observed the way in which echidnas walked and were fascinated at how their gaits combined the aspects of a four-legged mammal’s upright walk, with that of reptiles’ sprawling motion.
Dr. Clemente and his team attached GPS monitors and accelerometer loggers to 11 echidnas and let them walk around freely. They found out that the “rolling waddle” type of movement of these animals was a consequence of their short arms, which were more suited to digging and are less for actual running.
Dubbed as a “keystone species”, these echidnas and their strong, stubby arms are actually of great biological significance to Australia’s soils and lands, and to their ecosystem as well!
The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology and included facts such as echidnas spending 12% of their time (on average) digging, implying the potential of excavating up to 204 meters cubed or 7,200 cubic feet of soil per year. This is based on the creature’s measured capacity to displace their body weight in the space of a minute.
So, what makes echidnas so special than the rest of the animals who also dig?
Findings from the study also uncovered a few important features that these creatures hold: although they usually move slower than others, these echidnas can actually travel at greater distances every day than most similar-sized mammals. In fact, they can even run faster in hot weather!
What’s more is that these animals play an even bigger in their ecosystem than we thought they would. While they dig and burrow through the soil to feed on ants, they are actually also mixing up the soil while they’re at it! This mixing results in the doubling of the amount of water that the soil can absorb as well as the organic material it can retain.
This amazing discovery will eventually lead to a greater diversity of different species in the near future.