The Effect of Animals on Plants

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

What are the effect of animals on plants? Recognizing how animals and plants depend on each other is vital for conserving ecosystems. Biodiversity, supported by this relationship, helps with carbon storage and overall ecosystem stability — essential for sustainable efforts.

Mutualistic Interactions Between Animals and Plants

The effect of animals on plants’ interactions showcase the interdependence of animals and plants, contributing to the health and sustainability of ecosystems. Mutualistic interactions between animals and plants are partnerships where both parties benefit. Examples include: 


The effect of animals on plants is a broad topic. For example, animals like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds play a crucial role in pollination. 

They move pollen between flowers, helping plants make seeds. This process is essential for the survival of many plants and influences biodiversity.  

In agriculture, these animals also contribute to the successful growth of crops. About 75% of flowering plants globally and about 45% of our food crops rely on animals like bees for reproduction. This means roughly one-third of the food you eat is possible because of pollinators, including native bees, that enhance crop yields. 

The relationship between plants and animals through pollination is mutually beneficial. Plants rely on animals, such as bees and birds, for reproduction. These animals unintentionally transfer pollen between flowers, facilitating the formation of seeds and ensuring the next generation of plants. This process is essential for many plant species’ survival and genetic diversity.

On the flip side, animals depend on plants for food. Nectar, produced by flowers, is a source of pollinators’ energy. 

In the case of herbivores, plants directly provide sustenance. This interdependence forms a delicate ecological balance where plants and animals coexist, each meeting essential needs for their survival. It underscores the intricate web of relationships in nature, highlighting the interconnectivity and interdependence of different species within ecosystems.

Seed Dispersal 

Seed dispersal has good effects on plants in a few ways. It helps plants spread out and avoid overcrowding near the parent plant, creating a healthier population. 

Dispersing seeds to different places means plants encounter diverse conditions, leading to more genetic diversity — helping plants adapt and stay resilient. It allows plants to reach new habitats where they might thrive better, contributing to their survival and growth. By establishing new places, plants make ecosystems more potent and more stable.

How Animals Aid in Seed Dispersal

The effect of animals on plants is that animals play a vital role in helping plants spread their seeds. They do this in five different ways — mainly: 

  • Ingestion: Animals eat fruits with seeds. After digestion, the seeds are released in a new location when the animal excretes. This spreads seeds around, reducing competition and helping plants grow in new places.
  • Attachment: Some seeds stick to animals’ fur or feathers. As animals move, they carry the seed to new places and help plants establish in different habitats.
  • Transport: Seeds can hitch a ride on animals, sticking to their bodies, aiding in their unintentional transport to different areas.
  • Ant-mediated dispersal: Seeds attract ants that carry them to their nests. Ants help bury and protect seeds, influencing where certain plants grow. 
  • Caching: Animals like squirrels store seeds for later— when some are forgotten, it leads to the accidental dispersal of seeds — impacting the types of plants in an area. 

Nutrient Cycling

Animals play a key role in recycling nutrients in nature. Here’s a breakdown of the cycle:

  • Eating plants: Animals eat plants for food. They take in nutrients from plants, using them for their growth.
  • Returning nutrients in water: They release waste-containing nutrients from the plants they eat. This waste puts nutrients back into the environment, recycling them. 
  • Decomposers breaking down waste: Decomposers break down waste, including animal remains. This breakdown releases nutrients, enriching the soil for plant growth. 
  • Better soil for plants: Enriched soil from decomposition supports plant growth. Plants thrive in this n

Herbivory’s Balancing Act Between Animals and Plants

Herbivory, the consumption of plants by animals, is a natural process where animals eat plants. It has sparked an evolutionary contest between herbivores and plants. 

Animals that eat plants have developed unique ways to get plant nutrients, like unique teeth. These tricks help them eat plants effectively and even influence the traits of the plants they eat.

Plants have protection methods, like thorns or toxins to stop herbivores from eating them. These defenses discourage animals from munching on them and protect the plant’s ability to make more plants.

Plants and herbivores have strategies to live together. Some plants make substances that repel herbivores and attract creatures that eat those herbivores — creating a balance in nature.

Herbivory and Plant Adaptations

Plants have different tricks to deal with animals that eat them, affecting how plants and animals interact. Some plants only turn on their defense when eaten. This saves energy for the plant and when an animal starts eating, it fights back, making it less tasty. 

Certain plants pretend to be something else, like an animal or a damaged plant. This confuses animals and helps plants avoid being eaten.

Trophic Cascades

Trophic cascades are like a chain reaction in nature. Changes in the number or behavior of animals, especially predators, can affect plants and the whole ecosystem. 

Predators keep herbivores in check, preventing them from eating too many plants. Without them, herbivores can eat too many plants, changing how the environment looks. Some examples are: 

  • Yellowstone wolves: Without wolves, too many elk were eating plants. Bringing back wolves in 1995 in Yellowstone balanced things out. Less elk grazing allowed plants to grow, benefitting other animals. 
  • Sea otters and kelp: Overfishing hurts sea otters, leading to too many sea urchins eating kelp. Reintroducing sea otters helped control sea urchins, allowing kelp to thrive again and supporting marine life.  
  • Elephants and acacia trees: Poaching reduced elephant numbers, letting other herbivores eat too many acacia trees. African elephants can disperse seeds up to 40 miles, so protecting elephants is important in changing herbivore behavior and giving acacia trees a chance to grow.  

Conservation Implications and Future Directions

Protecting animals is vital for plant conservation and restoring ecosystems. Disrupting animal-plant interactions can harm the health of entire ecosystems, affecting plant growth and diversity. Recognizing this, conservation policies stress the need to preserve these relationships. 

Climate Change and Future Research Direction

Climate change impacts animal-plant interactions by messing with when plants bloom, where animals live and the partnerships they share. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that 40,084 out of 150,000 species are in danger of extinction. This disruption can lead to problems for plant communities and make ecosystems less resilient. 

Studying animal-plant interactions needs more attention. Future research should dig into these complexities, exploring how animals and plants depend on each other. Teamwork between different fields and using advanced tools can help unravel the mysteries of these relationships and guide conservation efforts.

Recognizing The Effect of Animals on Plants

Animals significantly impact plants, helping with reproduction, diversity and overall ecosystem health. Understanding and protecting the relationships between animals and plants are crucial to thriving in the natural world.

Share on

Like what you read? Join other Environment.co readers!

Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the Environment.co newsletter!

About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.