Tuesday, April 7, 2015

So you slept through science class–What’s “habitat fragmentation”?

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What do you think is the greatest threat to wildlife biodiversity?

  • pollution?
  • overhunting/overharvesting?
  • wildlife poaching?
  • habitat destruction?

If you guessed habitat destruction, you were right!  Often, when we think of habitat destruction, we think of clearcutting of forests or mountaintop removal for coal mines, but there’s a much more common type of habitat destruction.  It’s called “habitat fragmentation” or breaking large tracts of habitat into smaller chunks.  Examples include when we divide forest habitat into 5 acre lots for housing development, or when we build roads through wild areas.

Many species can coexist with humans without too much disruption – think of squirrels, crows, robins, hawks, even coyotes. Some species, such as deer, thrive on “edge habitat” – the area where forests meet fields.  But there are many other creatures that need large tracts of undisturbed habitat (often woodlands, but not always) in order to successfully feed and breed.  We often think of large animals, such as bears or wolves, when we think of this type of creature, but many birds only thrive deep in forested areas.

Although setting aside small chunks of habitat is helpful for some creatures, others need much, much more space.  There’s an exciting effort going on right now called Y2Y or Yellowstone to Yukon.  Their vision: “An interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, harmonizing the needs of people with those of nature.”  (photo from the Y2Y website).  Although this effort is a huge one, you can do the same where you live – be aware of fragmentation of habitat and encourage preservation of wildlife corridors and large areas of habitat.

Yahk to Yaak

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