Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Habitat Fragmentation

Photo: Lynn Betts, NRCS

While there are a number of negative effects on natural systems associated with land development and urban expansion, the most direct impact is simply the outright destruction of complex functioning natural communities and the replacement of these communities with simplified, ecologically depauperate landscapes. Healthy ecosystems provide a multitude of services for both humans and wildlife; erosion control, sediment retention, soil formation, nutrient cycling, waste treatment, pollination, water supply and water regulation are just a few examples. Short of outright habitat destruction, however, fragmentation of the remaining habitat results in myriad negative effects on ecosystem function, habitat quality, species diversity and species abundance.

The impacts of fragmentation vary widely, depending on the natural community under consideration, and the particular barriers separating fragments. Roads, for example can be crossed easily by most birds, but for earthbound animals like turtles, they are a source of dramatically increased mortality rates. An agricultural field presents a foraging opportunity for species such as white-tailed deer, but may completely prevent dispersal for some salamanders or woodland soil organisms. The size and shape of fragments, the distance and type of barriers by which they are separated, and the existence of connections or corridors between them can all contribute to the impact of habitat fragmentation on species richness and abundance, and ecosystem stability.

For more information, see: Habitat Assessment, Section V (PDF)