5 Effects of Landfills on Animals Explained

Effects of landfills on animals are; habitat destruction, loss of bioenergy sources, unhealthy dietary adaptations, biodiversity loss, and native species displacement.

This article discusses the effects of landfills on animals, as follows;



1). Habitat Destruction (as one of the Effects of Landfills on Animals)

Landfills can cause the destruction of natural ecosystems, which serve as habitats for various organic species.

One of the ways in which landfills destroy habitat is through invasive occupation.

Sites that are suitable for landfilling applications, are often remote, low-value lands that have undergone severe erosion or other processes which have made them unsuitable for most purposes.

Because they are not used for human residence, such sites are often home to species like birds, reptiles and mammals, which may become fully adapted to the site conditions, so that it (the site) becomes ecologically equivalent to ecosystems like forests and tundras, which have a well-developed energy pyramid that consists of native species.

When the practice of landfilling is commenced in such sites, the habitat of these native species is encroached upon, and instantly or gradually destroyed with increase in the size of the landfill and its environmental impacts [1].

Environmental degradation in the process of landfill disposal is an important factor behind most cases of habitat destruction in landfill sites. This may occur in the form of deforestation; which may be carried out for, or as a result of landfilling.

Other forms of degradation that cause habitat destruction in landfills include pollution of soil, air and water.

Effects of Landfills on Animals: Habitat Destruction (Credit: Nicolás Boullosa 2008 .CC BY 2.0.)
Effects of Landfills on Animals: Habitat Destruction (Credit: Nicolás Boullosa 2008 .CC BY 2.0.)


2). Loss of Bioenergy Sources

Landfilling facilitates the loss of usable bioenergy, in the form of organic matter.

Biomass that is sent to landfills is often lost to the environment through biodegradation.

Such losses are detrimental to the ecosystem, and are behind some of the negative effects of landfills on the environment, such as greenhouse emissions [3].

Methane is produced in large-scale when organic waste decomposes in landfills. This gas is a renewable fuel and can serve as a source of useful energy for purposes like electricity generation or heating [2].

All of these factors imply that when methane is released from landfills, bioenergy is lost from the ecosystem. Such losses can be detrimental to animals, as they signify loss of ecologic equilibrium, and destabilization of the energy pyramid which governs how organisms survive by transferring energy among themselves through feeding relationships.

Loss of bioenergy resources may also occur in the form of de-vegetation or deforestation, that are likely to occur in landfill sites with significant amount of vegetation.


3). Unhealthy Dietary Adaptations (as one of the Effects of Landfills on Animals)

The presence of large volumes of waste in landfills can lead to unfavorable changes in the feeding patterns of animals [4].

This is especially the case for non-sanitary landfills where waste materials are not, or are inappropriately compacted and buried. Exposure of waste can lure animals and cause them to become adapted to landfill waste as a source of nutrition.

One of the most obvious consequences of this is physical injury and death, which may occur when animals attempt to consume inedible waste materials. Cases of plastic ingestion by birds and fish are not too uncommon [5]. It must be noted that such cases often go alongside plastic pollution, littering and other forms of degradation within the environs.

Mortality rates may also rise as a result of animals becoming entrapped or entangled in waste.

Dependence on landfill for food can also cause unfavorable changes in the energy pyramid and bioenergy transfer patterns in ecosystems.

For example, predatory animals like bears and crows can become adapted to landfill waste as an alternative and easily-available food source, leading to a decline in their natural role as predators.

In the long-term, this can set off unnatural population conditions that can make it difficult for both predator and prey to survive; such as a rise in herbivore and insectivore population sizes, with corresponding scarcity of plants and other essential resources which these populations feed on, and which the entire ecosystem needs for its own sustainability.

Lastly, dietary changes caused by landfill waste can lead to a rise in human-animal interaction, which can cause the spread of zoonotic diseases and may lead to further harmful habitual changes, where some carnivorous animals may begin to see humans as a potential prey.

Effects of Landfills on Animals: Unhealthy Dietary Adaptations (Credit: Eco-Business 2017 .CC BY 2.0.)
Effects of Landfills on Animals: Unhealthy Dietary Adaptations (Credit: Eco-Business 2017 .CC BY 2.0.)


4). Biodiversity Loss

Nearly all other effects of landfills on animals ultimately lead to loss of biodiversity.

The conversion of sites for landfilling purposes causes a decline in native biodiversity because it requires clearing of land and encroachment of natural habitats.

Biodiversity may also be lost due to loss of productivity that is influenced by dietary behavioral changes, and pollution. Many plant species may be killed-off due to infiltration of toxins from landfill waste, into the soil.

Effects of landfills on the environment like climate change, can negatively impact the survival rate of species.

Studies estimate the loss of biodiversity as a result of landfilling, to be capable of reaching 300 species per 100 acres [6].


5). Native Species Displacement (as one of the Effects of Landfills on Animals)

The attraction of vermin like rodents and insects to landfills, can cause serious population and survival problems for native species.

These vermin, which are invasive species, may reproduce and grow rapidly due to the availability of food from the landfill, causing them to outnumber and out-compete the native species, and thereby to displace them.

Native herbivorous species can also be forced to migrate when their habitat or environs are converted to landfills; due to the decline in vegetation which is their source of food.

In soils, microbe populations can also be out-competed and displaced by invasive microbes which decompose landfill waste.



Effects of landfills on animals are;

1. Habitat Destruction

2. Loss of Bioenergy Sources

3. Unhealthy Dietary Adaptations

4. Biodiversity Loss

5. Native Species Displacement



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5). Naidoo, T.; Smit, A. J.; Glassom, D. (2016). “Plastic ingestion by estuarine mullet Mugil cephalus (Mugilidae) in an urban harbour, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.” African Journal of Marine Science 38(1):1-5. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2989/1814232X.2016.1159616. (Accessed 8 November 2022).

6). Siddiqua, A.; Hahladakis, J. N.; Al-Attiya, W. A. K. (2022). “An overview of the environmental pollution and health effects associated with waste landfilling and open dumping.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research 29(Suppl 1):1-23. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-022-21578-z. (Accessed 7 November 2022).

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