The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) releases a report every year about the global emerging issues of environmental concern. For 2018/19, alongside nitrogen pollution, melting permafrost peatlands and synthetic biology, there is a major concern about ecological connectivity.
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Habitat fragmentation is the division of a large, continuous habitat into smaller areas, caused by habitat destruction. For example, clearcutting and logging leave bare patches in the forest, and forestry roads cut through wildlife habitats. Building dams and reservoirs disconnects upstream and downstream ecosystems. This loss of ecological connectivity leads to a loss of biodiversity – species are unable to migrate, find a partner or a new territory. Additionally, this barrier to migration means that landscapes in the future will be less able to adapt to climate change.
Habitat fragmentation and loss of ecological connectivity begins as this loss of biodiversity, and deteriorates into the collapse of food webs and a loss of ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, and water and air quality regulation.
We need to think together
This UNEP report not only highlights ecological connectivity as a growing concern, but also the current lack of a global strategy. Landscapes are not bound by country borders, and therefore action needs to be taken together across the planet. The report outlines the progress currently being made to tackle habitat fragmentation, for example wildlife corridors, however more effort is needed to progress in protecting connectivity.
Using Wilderness to tackle habitat fragmentation
Wilderness is a continuous area of wild land, which is large enough to be driven by natural processes (both abiotic, such as fire, avalanches, climate, or biotic, such as animals, habitats, nutrients). Wilderness is by definition also large enough to provide space for its species to roam, feed and thrive.
Therefore, Wilderness can effectively contribute towards preserving current connectivity, and further connecting habitats and species. It represents the best opportunity to restoring and maintaining ecological and evolutionary processes. Here, the European Wilderness Network can be used as a best practice example.
You can read the report below: