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Plants & animals around volcanoes

Updated April 17, 2017

Typically, a volcanic eruption is thought of as a catastrophic and highly destructive event. While it is true that a volcano causes great destruction, it can also be beneficial to the environment. A great variety of plants and animals can survive around a volcano and aid in the recovery of the ecosystem after a volcanic event.

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Volcanic Eruptions

A volcanic eruption is known for causing great destruction for plants and animals as well as humans. During an eruption, a volcano can release gases, ash and magma, which is a mixture of liquid rock, crystals and gases. Magma can range in temperature from 600 to 1200 degrees Celsius, or 600 to 1200 degrees Celsius. Magma kills animals in its path, disrupts fish and interferes with the flight, feeding and migration of birds. Magma also burns plants. Even the ash from a volcanic eruption can interfere with the wings of insects.

Impact of Eruption

Although a volcanic eruption is very destructive, it also has benefits to the ecosystem around the volcano. Magma can contain silica, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. This means the ash from an eruption enriches already existing soil, and the magma adds many nutrients and creates new soil. The soil around an active volcano is extremely rich and good for plant growth, which aids in the recovery of the ecosystem after an explosion.

Returning Ecosystem

The plants that grow around a volcano are instrumental to re-establishing the ecosystem. There are many ways plants return to the ecosystem; for instance, the seeds of plants may be protected in the soil during an eruption, or seeds may be deposited in an area later by wind or birds. Small trees, ferns and other small plants like mosses are the first to begin growing. Their growth helps break down rock into soil for other plants. Rain is also a factor in recovery, with areas that have a lot of rain recovering faster than dry areas.

Plants and Animals

Specific plant and animal species will vary depending upon the area surrounding the volcano. For instance, Hawai'i is an island and has a fairly isolated ecosystem. Animal species are primarily limited to insects, spiders, turtles, bats and birds, with other animals such as cats being invasive species and causing environmental harm. Less isolated ecosystems have more variety. For instance, the ecosystem of Mount St. Helens includes herbivorous hares, deer and elk as well as carnivorous coyotes, bobcats, bears and mountain lions.

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