We weren’t early enough this past Saturday to see the larger animals that we often encounter in the cemetery, but we quite frequently see coyotes, and often deer in the park. The end of the cemetery park tapers off into a ravine, and being fairly sheltered, the ravine hosts packs of coyotes and herds of deer, as well as skulks of foxes, swarms of muskrats, and colonies of some of the smaller predators.
Coyotes and deer are keystone species, which are animals that play a unique role in how ecosystems function. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be entirely different, or cease to exist, so they are therefore very important in the larger scheme of things.
White-tailed deer are considered a keystone species because they are important herbivores in their ecosystem, and they are prey for other species, although not often coyotes. Eating plants benefits the ecosystem by controlling the physical and biological habitat. As both herbivore and prey, white-tailed deer are important, and our forests and farmlands would be completely different if they weren’t around.
Coyotes are also a keystone species, in that they control various populations of other creatures by hunting them for food. Squirrels, in particular, are a favourite prey of coyotes, and the squirrel population in the cemetery is kept reasonably small by the coyotes, making it easier for smaller creatures who fill the same niche as squirrels, such as chipmunks and voles (both essential to the ecosystem) in check. Coyotes are also the apex predator species of the cemetery ecosystem.
All this to say, that ecosystems are fragile, and Mount Pleasant Cemetery is an important urban ecosystem for Toronto. The presence of deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks and many birds, sometimes surprises us, and often makes our walks more interesting because of these sightings.