GOING, GOING, GONE?

GOING, GOING, GONE?

I’m sure the word ‘habitat’ rings a bell in everyone’s minds. However, few of us realise its importance and impact on our survival as a species and the survival of other species on Planet Earth. What is a habitat? To put it simply, it is the home of plants and animals. It is the place where these organisms live and thrive. The habitat of a species could be terrestrial or aquatic. They get all their requirements — namely air, food, water and a place to live and raise their young, from their habitat.

Given the fact that there are organisms big and small, their habitat requirements are likely to vary.

For instance, a praying mantis may live all its life on a tree trunk, while elephants require a large patch of forest. Therefore, a species will survive if all its requirements are met in its habitat.

Over a period of time (usually several million years), many species have adapted to a particular kind of habitat. When that particular habitat is destroyed or disturbed, the species can be threatened with extinction. Habitat loss, which includes habitat destruction, fragmentation and degrad-ation, threatens flora and fauna both locally and globally. This can happen due to a variety of reasons; it is largely due to human activities and at times due to natural phenomena.

Human activities like clearing land for agriculture, growing industrialisation and its demand on raw material, mining, clearing of forests for various other purposes, all
contribute to the destruction of natural habitats.

Habitat destruction is not restricted to terrestrial habitats. It can be seen in water bodies, on land and in marine situations too. Trawling for commercial fishing, draining of water bodies, dynamiting small rivers and coral reefs to harvest fish and corals can all leave pristine habitats devastated.

As cities grow, they slowly eat into the neighbouring wild areas. The strong need to create infrastructure has also necessitated creation of a network of roads both within and between cities. When roads and railway lines pass through natural habitats they tend to divide not only the contiguous habitat into fragments but also the populations of various species, of plants and animals, into smaller congregations.

Fragmentation

Many organisms shy away from crossing these man-made barriers while those that try to move between fragments sometimes get killed. Elephants, for instance, are wide-ranging animals and require large tracts of contiguous forests. Elephants getting killed by trains as they cross railway tracks are examples of what habitat fragmentation can do to various species. All this brings animals in direct conflict with humans.

Invasive species, pollution (both terrestrial and aquatic), and fires can degrade habitats, rendering them incapable of supporting all the species that once inhabited them.
Though habitat degradation does not destroy the habitat totally, it makes it incapable of sustaining the original diversity and density.

Such degraded habitats may be favourable for some species while completely unsuitable for others that existed therein. Species that are particularly adapted to surviving only in these habitats will be the most affected.

All these factors threaten the survival of the very habitats that are repositories of biodiversity.

According to a study, survival of about 85 per cent of the world’s wildlife is threatened by habitat loss. Habitat loss is considered to be the single largest threat to the survival of many species. Also, 93 per cent of all medicinal plants used in Indian traditional medicine are threatened due to habitat loss.

Efforts like captive breeding can help in saving a few species from extinction. It is important to realise that it is impossible to breed in captivity the multitude of organisms that are endangered or threatened due to habitat loss.

We must ensure that the habitats are protected to prevent more and more species from becoming endangered or inching dangerously close to extinction. Habitat protection is the only long term way which will ensure that we save our biodiversity.

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