Compared to plants, animals make up only a small part of the total mass of living matter on earth. Despite this, they play an important part in shaping and maintaining natural environments.
Many habitats are directly influenced by the way animals live. Grasslands, for example, exist partly because grasses and grazing animals have evolved a close partnership, which prevents other plants from taking hold. Tropical forests also owe their existence to animals, because most of their trees rely on animals to distribute their pollen and seeds. Soil is partly the result of animal activity, because earthworms and other invertebrates help to break down dead remains and recycle the nutrients that they contain. Without its animal life, the soil would soon become compacted and infertile.
By preying on each other, animals also help to keep their own numbers in check. This prevents abrupt population peaks and crashes and helps to give living systems a built-in stability. On a global scale, animals also influence some of the nutrient cycles on which almost all life depends. They distribute essential mineral elements in their waste, and they help to replenish the atmosphere's carbon dioxide when they breathe. This carbon dioxide is then used by plants as they grow.