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Development and habitat loss

This map depicts historic land use from the 1830's (data from the Harvard Forest), urban/developed land from 2005 land use/land cover mapping (MassGIS) and areas of new development from 2005 - 2013 (Massachusetts Audubon).

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This map depicts historic land use from the 1830's (data from the Harvard Forest), urban/developed land from 2005 land use/land cover mapping...

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Stressors

Development and habitat loss

Development and habitat loss have long been regarded as principle threats to fish, wildlife and biodiversity conservation. For every acre of habitat lost there is a corresponding reduction in the landscape’s capacity to support wildlife. The impact of development is even greater than the direct loss of habitat. Landscape fragmentation that accompanies development also threatens wildlife populations by

1) decreasing the size of undeveloped blocks of natural habitat,
2) reducing connectivity among habitat blocks, and
3) serving as a source of pollutants, invasive species? and other stressors that affect ecosystem health.

Large blocks of undeveloped natural land are important because they typically contain a diversity of habitat types that can support a greater diversity of species and larger populations that are more likely than small populations to persist over time. In the face of ongoing and future climate change the resilience that comes with large blocks of undeveloped habitat will be essential as we strive to maintain healthy and diverse wildlife populations in the coming decades.

Roads, housing, and other development consumes and fragments natural habitat.
Roads, housing, and other development consumes and fragments natural habitat.

Interconnections among large parcels of conservation land are important because it is inevitable that populations will be lost over time. The occasional movement of animals from one natural area to another can forestall such losses by reinforcing populations that may not be able to maintain their numbers through reproduction and via gene flow, a process that is essential for maintaining genetic health in small populations. If a population is lost due to drought, flood, fire or some other disturbance, the movement of individuals through the landscape provides a mechanism for recolonizing the habitat patch and re-establishing a population there. As climate change results in changes in environmental conditions some areas of conservation land may no longer be suitable for species that were once supported by that area. Landscape connectivity will be essential for allowing plants and animals to adjust their geographic distributions over time and for new species to be added as others are lost in these habitat blocks.

Related Adaptation Strategies and Actions

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