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Discuss some of the ways that habitat fragmentation and habitat loss impact on both ecosystems and species. Use examples to support your answer.
Habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are an increasing environmental problem, worldwide. Today, habitat destruction is happening at a rapid rate, the current rate of deforestation is 160,000 square kilometres per year (Wikipedia got it from Laurance 1999) and around half the world's original forests have disappeared. When natural space is converted or destroyed, it has a huge impact on both natural ecological process and species that once lived and survived in the previous untouched state of habitat. From the diversity of an ecosystem being greatly reduced to the endangerment of a species, there are a diverse range of effects which result from not preserving our natural habitat.
The loss of natural space and the modification of habitat is mostly caused by humans. The ever increasing human population is putting a greater demand on the use of natural resources and using environmental services; including logging for the use of timber and fuel wood, mining, trawling and deforestation. However, the main reason for clearing habitat is to make room for more agricultural land. Farming and logging have severely disturbed at least 94% of temperate broadleaf forests (wiki, Primack, 2006) As a result of population growth people need more land to enable them to produce more food, to keep up with the demand. Industrialization and urbanisation also play a major role in the conversion of habitats. It is estimated that the world's population will reach 10 billion by the year 2050 ( my book pp27) which will have a disturbing impact for the species that share our planet. Natural disasters, like fire, flood, landslides, tsunamis and hurricanes for example can also cause habitat loss, although after a natural disaster over time the land is restored to its previous self. Both natural disasters and the human population are at the basis of habitat loss and fragmentation which can have a huge effect on an ecosystem and species.
The diversity of an ecosystem is greatly impacted due to the loss of habitat. This causes biodiversity which reflects the number, variety and variability of living organisms (green facts)to be reduced. It is said that changes in biodiversity are linked to habitat loss and perhaps the greatest threat to organisms and biodiversity is it's process (Wiki got from Barbault and Sastrapradja 1995) this is due to plants and animals being associated with a particular type of habitat then becoming displaced or dying as of habitat loss, which therefore reduces the overall biodiversity of an ecosystem, which affects the number and variety of organisms which live there. The results of loss of biodiversity not only has a direct impact on individual organisms but can impact and are associated with changes to the natural environment and species as a whole. As plants and animals have a huge diversity and live in a close association with specific habitats when habitat loss occurs it will not only affect the individual species but can affect many, as of the ecological interactions and processes between the different species within the ecosystem. This generally works its way up a food chain as one species needs another in order to survive, one organism affects another. This is also displayed when the basic food resource of an ecosystem, the plants which are producers, is destroyed due to habitat loss, which causes a chain of impacts up a food chain. As of this the diversity of an ecosystem is impacted the number of species living in that particular habitat declines.
The main effect of habitat loss is extinction and/or the endangerment of a species. As habitats are fragmented and destroyed, whole species that depend on that particular environment can be totally wiped out. It is said that habitat destruction is currently ranked as the most important cause of species extinction worldwide (Wiki, Pimm and Raven, 2000, pp 845-845) Animals and plants depend on their physical environment, and when that environment is changed or diminished its carrying capacity is reduced. Which as a whole impacts on the number of organisms the environment can support. When habitat is lost an environment is changed therefore an animal's natural resources which they depend on, in order to survive are destroyed. The ecosystem functions are lost including food sources reduced or completely destroyed, their shelter in which they live and nest and raise young, is also destroyed. As animal's resources are destroyed their survival rate is reduced. This can cause the extinction of a species. Species extinction is a natural part of the earth's history however it is happening at a greater rate today as an increase of human activities including that of destroying natural habitat. A greater number of species have become extinct in the past 200 years than became extinct more than 2000 years before the start of the industrial revolution (my book 27) As changes to the environment are happening at a rapid rate and the rate of change is not slowing down plants and animals can't naturally adapt and evolve to suit their new environment at such a quick rate which only leaves one outcome, the species dying off. This goes for habitat fragmentation as well. As habitat fragmentation is the sub-dividing of a particular habitat it not only affects a certain species but can affect different processes that drive biodiversity. As the dividing occurs large populations of a species living in that habitat are caused to break up into smaller populations which are then usually isolated from one another, this term is described as sub-populations. These sub-populations are often too small to be classed as viable as they generally don't have a huge genetic diversity. The loss of genetically distinct populations within species, is, at the moment, at least as important a problem as the loss of entire species (google book pp22) as the species total extinction is more likely. Fragmentation can also cause geographic isolation. For example if a species becomes extinct in one area it can't reach a nearby population of another area which reduces the potential to reproduce. Habitat loss or conversion can not only affect the way in which an organism is displaced and pushed out of its home but it can also be an invitation to a new species which favour the new environment.
Opportunistic species whether it be a plant or an animal are a species that can alter and change their growth rate or behaviour to suit a particular environment, this is what makes them favourable to different changing environments. When a natural space is converted or destroyed, this can bring about environmental changes where different species now benefit from the new environmental conditions. This is where opportunistic species move in, as they have a rapid growth rate, this is a characteristic which enables them to quickly establish themselves in a new environment. They're an alien species which can decrease the diversity of native species even more.
As discussed habitat loss is on the rise therefore in order to save untouched areas conservation needs to be on the rise as well. There needs to be an increase of national parks, conservation areas and protected species in order to conserve what earth has today. Awareness needs to be raised and people need to be conscious about the impacts the human race are having on the natural environment which in turn affects us. Both terrestrial and marine areas need to be protected and remain untouched to help and continue to preserve different ecological habitats the world has to offer, otherwise they will be lost forever.