Habitat encroachment, loss and fragmentation

How would you feel if a group of unknown hooligans barged into your house and took up the entire living room to stay and work from? Not good, I’m thinking. But let’s say you have no option. You let them be and make do with living in your bedroom and using the bathroom and kitchen.

But wait! These guys soon decide that they also need to cook! So, they decided to come into your kitchen as well. You try to stop them, but they cut you off. Now, you are pretty much stuck with your bedroom and bathroom. Well, I guess you could cook in your room. You decide to adjust some more…..

But these guys are relentless. They decide they need the bathroom more than you do. Now all you have access to are your bedroom and the front door. What in the world are you going to do?

That is exactly what habitat encroachment and fragmentation is. I’ve mentioned these terms before (herehere and here). But they deserve special mention in a separate blog because of the massive impact they have on every environmental aspect there is.

Humans clearly have been taking up a lot of space in the world. Increased intelligence, increasing population and the development of economics based on maximum resource utilization has driven us into uncharted territories for much of the last century (and continuing…). While this has boosted our way of living, the rest of the world? Not so much. Here’s a short discourse on how we (the hooligans) have managed to wreck havoc in the homes of other life forms and non-living forms around the world.

habitat fragmentation के लिए चित्र परिणाम
This may look beautiful, but never judge a book by it’s cover!

Habitat fragmentation has 4 clear effects; (1)reduction in the number of habitats, (2)reduction in size of the habitats, (3)increase in the number of habitat patches and (4)increasing isolation of these patches.

The biggest and the most obvious consequence of our encroachment has been less space, for other animals and plants to colonize. Everywhere in the world, forest areas are shrinking. Coral reefs are lessening in extent because of direct and indirect impact of human activities (you can refer to this post for a short description of how Australia has affected the Great Barrier Reef).  This reduction is like shifting from a 4 bed-room apartment to a 2 bed-room apartment with 2 other families. What do you think that will cause?

While encroaching is one thing, we also break up the habitats into smaller and more distant patches. This has a multitude of effects. Seed dispersal pattern gets erratic and inefficient because the intervening area between habitats are not suitable for growth anymore. The chances of land degradation increases because a fragmented habitat leaves the land susceptible to erosion. We also face the risk of natural disasters. There is more pressure on animals to find food and shelter and increased risk of coming in contact with humans.

This, directly relates to Human-Wildlife conflicts. The single biggest reason for these conflicts are habitat encroachment and fragmentation. Come on, if you enter someone’s home and break it up for your own benefit, you think they won’t fight for their needs as well?

What is most worrying about this, though, is the loss of biodiversity. Out of the four major causes of biodiversity loss (the others being invasion of alien species, pollution and over-exploitation of resources), habitat destruction is the biggest reason. The reason is straightforward; in the process of encroaching, we kill a huge number of organisms. This includes plants and insects and microbes. After encroachment, we further prevent the reestablishment of plant and animal colonies. And by fragmenting the habitat, we decrease connectivity between the patches of livable land. Divide and conquer, remember?

fragmentation
The case on the left is habitat loss; the case on the right is habitat fragmentation.

However, it is important to note that fragmentation is different from “habitat loss”. This is the complete destruction of habitat and is definitely going to cause loss of all life in that area. While fragmentation allows for some accommodation of other life forms (and does not always result in losses; I’ll cover this in a future post), habitat loss leaves no breathing space. Both fragmentation and habitat loss are issues that need to be tackled when we plan our resource management activities. A few simple considerations will go a long way in curbing the effects of this two phenomena.

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