How volcanic eruption impacts biodiversity

February 21, 2020
Photo of bird with ash near Taal volcano by Raffy Tima @raffytima on Twitter.

The recent Taal eruption displaced thousands of families, caused millions-worth of damage, and has put the area and surrounding provinces in danger of hazardous volcanic fumes.

Many left their homes to stay in evacuation areas for safety—some even leaving behind their pets and farm animals. There have been reports of stranded animals amid the ongoing volcanic unrest circulating online, with netizens asking to rescue domestic animals and livestock.

The animals have since been rescued and taken to a safer area away from the hazard zone.

However, other species have remained in danger even as alert levels were lowered.

Species in danger

Taal island is home to a variety of animals and plants, notably the Garman sea snake, giant trevally (maliputo), and freshwater sardinella (locally known as tawilis, an endemic species listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Tawilis of Taal art work by Tricia Guevarra from Nolisoli.com.

There are also large animals on the island like horses and cows, which were reportedly left behind during the human evacuation due to their large sizes.

Not only did the recent eruption put these animals and plants at risk, but it also killed them.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said they received reports that flora and fauna on the volcanic island died due to volcanic fumes during the aerial inspection around the island.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said they expect fish kills in the lake due to the high sulfur content after the volcano eruption.

How volcanic eruptions affect biodiversity

Animal and plant deaths, as well as poisoned fish, are just some of the devastating effects of volcanic eruptions on wildlife. Not only can volcanic eruption displaced species, but it can also reshape the ecosystem surrounding it.

For instance, researchers from the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) found that past eruptions of Taal volcano increased human activities and led to the formation of several ecological barriers, hindering dispersal of other plant species on other areas of the island.

Another study in the West Indian island of Montserrat, the site of an ongoing volcanic eruption since 1995, revealed the negative impact of volcanic ash on the island’s canopy arthropod or invertebrate populations.

Large ash fall events and eruptions led to a significant drop in Montserrat’s insect populations, which the researchers said were due to the exposure to “relatively limited quantities of ash.”

Species of fish and corals are also at risk of destruction during volcanic unrest. The lava from the eruption of Hawaii’s Fissure 8 flooded “a rare tide pool ecosystem, home to 82 species of fish, 10 different species of coral and 17 species of invertebrates,” according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

While the adverse effects of volcanic eruptions on its surrounding biodiversity are inevitable, they aren’t the biggest threat to the environment. Nature finds a way to heal itself from natural disasters, but that doesn’t mean it will have to do all the work.

Ultimately, we should also do our part in ensuring that biodiversity thrives in the one planet we share together.