Interconnections in the Web of Life

By Randy Comeleo

For the past five years, we have been composting our food scraps with the assistance of red worms in outdoor bins at EPA’s Western Ecology Division (WED) laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon.  Last winter, we noticed that large food scraps were being stirred-up overnight by something in our compost bins.  We installed a self-operated wildlife camera inside one of the bins and soon identified the culprits: an after-hours party of dusky-footed woodrats–handsome, ash gray packrats with large ears and furred tails–were enjoying the freshly added vegetables.

A night-vision video captures a rat enjoying food from the compost bin

A dusky-footed woodrat visits the EPA Western Ecology Division laboratory compost bins.

Over the next several months, our self-operated wildlife camera revealed a continuous nighttime parade of skunks, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, and coyotes on our WED campus.

The video captures a fox hanging around the fence of the campus at night

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of a coyote at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

A remarkable example of the interconnectedness of species occurred a few weeks ago when we witnessed a female osprey carrying a large fish over our WED property.  The osprey lost her grip on the fish when she turned into a strong westerly headwind and the fish landed a few feet from the WED gray fox family’s den site.

A bird flying carrying a fish

An osprey carrying a largescale sucker flies over the EPA Western Ecology Division laboratory (Photo by Randy Comeleo).

The next day, we found the partially scavenged fish on the ground and identified it as a largescale sucker, most likely from the Willamette River, located nearly two miles away.

Gray fox pups enjoyed a fresh fish delivery to the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

Gray fox pups enjoyed a fresh fish delivery to the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

The fish was soon completely consumed by the hungry little foxes and the event illustrated just how interconnected we all are in the Web of Life.


About the Author: Randy Comeleo is an Ecologist for EPA’s Western Ecology Division research lab. He works primarily with the Air, Climate, and Energy research program as a Geographic Information System Analyst.

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