Wild horses dig wells in deserts, providing vital water sources for other animals and plants, research reveals

While not as famous as beavers in terms of their ‘ecosystem engineering’, horses are now known to play an important role in some arid areas, writes Harry Cockburn

Tuesday 04 May 2021 22:00
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Wild horses in Arizona. Desert-dwelling wild and feral populations of horses and donkeys increase water availability for many other animals
Wild horses in Arizona. Desert-dwelling wild and feral populations of horses and donkeys increase water availability for many other animals

Horses are not well known for their engineering prowess, but maybe they deserve more credit, as new research suggests desert environments can be transformed by wild horses and donkeys’ ability to dig wells which also provide water for other wildlife.

A research team which studied populations of wild horses and donkeys in North America say the animals’ “ecosystem engineering” capabilities had been largely overlooked.

The authors said the animals were routinely found to hollow out wells up to two metres in depth, creating new oases in dryland ecosystems which were sometimes the only water sources locally available.

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