Our planet is home to an extraordinary variety of living things, from plants and animals to insects and bacteria, totaling perhaps more than 10 million species. Many of these species are in danger, largely due to the destruction and degradation of their natural habitats. The earth is currently experiencing changes to its natural environment that are unprecedented in historic times. Current extinction rates are on the order of 10,000 times higher than at any previous time in the Earth’s history. It appears that while natural process can be blamed in part for the decline in the number of species, habitat destruction and fragmentation is now thought to be the primary cause of the decline in biodiversity. In fact, the Center for Conservation Biology (Fall 2003) recently reported that human settlement and use patterns often echo the distribution of habitats and high biodiversity. Surprised ? Not really. We all want to live in areas with moderate climate, good water supply, arable land, and forest resources.01
Do we care? As reported in the summer 2001 issue of Conservation Biology, a recent survey conducted for the Biodiversity Project found that the public’s overall concern for species and habitat loss appears to be waning. This provides a major challenge for both scientists and land managers: how to develop effective strategies to maintain biodiversity in developed and disturbed landscapes.
Fortunately, scientists, conservationists and environmental NGOs throughout the world are recognizing the impacts associated with habitat fragmentation. To our surprise, so are you! It was refreshing to learn that most of our Leaf Litter readers who responded to our recent survey are well aware of the issues of fragmentation and have some fairly strong opinions on the matter.
On a global scale, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) recognizes that to achieve global sustainable human development depends on how well Earth’s ecosystems are managed and that protecting and reestablishing earthscape (landscape and seascape) linkages is critical. One organization is taking the theory of landscape linkages and applying it throughout the North American continent to address habitat fragmentation. Leaf Litter recently sat down with the Wildlands Project to learn how they are addressing the destruction and fragmentation of habitat on a regional scale.
Finally, what is clear is that we now have the evidence that directly links the loss of biodiversity with habitat fragmentation, and more importantly, we also have the power to reverse this trend. Become involved in local land use and zoning issues, keep your local politicians informed about the impacts of habitat fragmentation, and support conservation planning and ecological restoration initiatives.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.