Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Habitat Loss… A Worldwide Danger

Stepping Stones

In recent years it seems more and more animals are being placed on the “endangered species” list or, unfortunately, are becoming extinct. Around the globe, as the human population continues to explode, the lands once inhabited by native species are being replaced with residential communities, commercial and industrial spaces. Agriculture, oil and gas exploration and pollution don’t help matters for the better either.

The simple definition of a “habitat” is an environment or home territory in which a group of species or organisms survive. It’s a place that supports animal or plant life and where the existence of flora and fauna obtain their needs for survival such as food, shelter, water and breeding grounds. Many species have different necessities and they have adapted to thrive in a specific type of habitat.

For example, some plants grow in the desert while others maintain life in swamp-filled marshes. They are all plants, but their needs are different because of their environment.

When a habitat is dramatically altered due to human expansion or pollution these places may no longer be able to provide food, water, shelter and breeding areas for the living creatures that dwell there. Their very existence is at risk because of this habitat loss, fragmentation or destruction.

Some of the major reasons for this loss are agriculture, sewage, pollution, land use development, vegetation removal, logging, dredging and an influx of invasive species.

Here in North America agricultural production has taken forests and grasslands and turned them into crop producing fields ever since the earliest settlers arrived. The removal of the native lands changed the landscape and made life unbearable for many native species of plants and animals. The runoff of pesticides, fertilizers and waste into waterways has also transformed the aquatic habitats.

Animal waste and fertilizers can generate nutrients that can create algae that, in turn, diminishes the amount of oxygen in aquatic ecosystems, thus affecting the health and breeding of plants and animals in the water. Sewage sediments can also destroy marine dwelling areas.

Water projects such as dams, levies, water diversion and power plants may divert or alter water flows to regions that previously depended on them. The depletion of water can change the chemistry in rivers, lakes, streams, estuaries and oceans. Again, a loss of original habitat is significantly changed to adjust the necessities for organisms to survive.

Land use conversion from natural settings to urban communities, cities and towns, industrial sites, parking lots, asphalt roads and business space has completely removed all of the needs for some species to survive, forcing them to try and live elsewhere or perish.

Removal of natural vegetation and trees takes away the elements that purify and replenish some habitats. This can also lead to soil erosion which, again, eliminates and washes away essential nutrients.

Dredging promotes the destruction of the feeding grounds, breeding areas and dwellings of aquatic plants and animals. Plant life that thrived at a certain depth will now try to re-establish their homes at a deeper level below the surface. If the sun cannot penetrate that new depth to grow the plants, they will not survive. Aquatic breeding grounds can be affected and several generations of marine life could be lost.

This is not a Florida problem or U.S. crisis. It is worldwide. There is a balance in nature and if one level of a chain is disturbed, every other level could suffer. In our lust to maintain a status as the apex species on the planet, homo sapiens should carefully consider that delicate balance and how the human race and its destruction of habitats, to further its own gain, may affect our position on that chain.

Bob is a Naturalist on the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books available locally on Marco Island and is a speaker at many venues throughout South Florida. Bob loves his wife very much!

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