A habitat is wildlife’s home. It is where they eat, sleep, drink, and socialize. Just like humans, wildlife need this sort of “shelter” to survive. Wildlife in their habitats vary depending on the biome. Biomes are regions in the world that have similar climates (temperature and weather), animals and plants (a). There are two overarching biomes: aquatic and terrestrial, and within those two biomes there are several regional biomes where animals and plants survive according to the climatic conditions. For instance, aquatic biomes can be separated into freshwater and marine biomes. These can be further categorized into freshwater, freshwater wetlands, estuaries, coral reefs, deep ocean and more. Terrestrial biomes may include tundra, rainforest, savanna, taiga, desert, chaparral (mediterranean), grasslands, and alpine. But even a rainforest can be further separated into temperate rainforest (i.e. Oregon) and a tropical rainforest (i.e. Costa Rica) (b).
Depending on the climate in the biomes, certain species thrive. The climate creates weather patterns and temperature that help control water patterns that aids in plant and animal growth. When the biome is altered/impacted by changes in climate patterns, invasive species or because of human destruction, the plants and animals can lose their habitats and therefore their ability to survive.
Earth’s climates have been changing for millions of years and plants and animals have evolved with these changes; however, more recently due to excess greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, Earth’s average temperature is warming at an accelerated rate. This warming alters temperature and weather patterns and in turn shocks climates and their biomes. Shocks to biomes create the need for plants and animals to evolve.
Currently, these shocks are occurring at an accelerated rate. It can take a species thousands of years of evolution to adapt to new conditions. This is not fast enough for current species to survive. For instance, Giant Sequoia trees are the living organism and oldest plant species on Earth (c). They thrive in altitudes between 5,000 ft and 8,000 ft and rely on coastal fogs and snowmelt. However, as climates change their biome has changed. Unlike humans, Sequoia’s can’t move quickly to a new home. They must adapt to local conditions. Given the accelerated change in climates, the Sequoias may not have the same resilience that they have experienced in the past.
Invasive species also impact habitats. Invasive species are exotic species that have entered into a new area, usually via humans, and do not have a natural predator to control populations. Humans have introduced new species into habitats accidentally via transporting materials in our globalized world, by attempting to control other species or by releasing foreign animals into an environment without realizing the impact. A prime example of this is the Cane Toad decimating wildlife populations in Australia. The Cane Toad was introduced to Australia in an attempt to destroy beetles that were decimating Queensland’s sugarcane crops. Cane Toads have poisonous glands that secrete venom. Cane Toads use this on their prey, but it can also impact predatory species. Birds prey on toads; however, native birds cannot digest the Cane Toad’s venom so it poisons them. Because Cane Toads did not have a natural predator and repopulate quickly, the toads spread across Australia rapidly. Australia is still working to control these species (d).
Another example of invasive species are invasive aquatic species. They normally enter our waterways via humans.
Boats often carry invasive species on their motors or hulls and drop species into water systems. An example of invasive aquatic plant species is Eurasian watermilfoil. This species was introduced to America in freshwater lakes in the Midwest via boats. Fragments of the plant take root in lake bottoms and proliferate across the area, strangling out other plant life. Invasive aquatic fish species also proliferate and overtake other aquatic species. Asian Carp is an example of an invasive aquatic fish species. The large fish are currently swimming up the Mississippi River towards Lake Michigan and feeding on plankton. Asian carp consume up to 20% of their body weight per day and can grow to 100 pounds (e). This leaves little plankton available for other fish. Research states that only 10 Asian Carps entering Lake Michigan would decimate the lake’s ecosystem. Other examples of invasive species include Lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico, Eurasian Ruffe and Zebra Mussels in the Great Lakes, Green Iguanas in Florida, and Ice Plant in California. These invasive species prey on native species, takeover habitats, and repopulate quickly causing large increases in populations, leading to further destruction.
Finally, human destruction is a major concern for habitats and wildlife. In order to maintain humanity’s consumption patterns, humans have destroyed habitats and wildlife populations. Indonesia is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions due to their high rates of deforestation. Deforestation has caused orangutans to lose their habitats and has pushed their species into the IUCN’s list of critically endangered species. The forests are not only deforested for wood but also to plant Red Palm Oil, or vegetable oil. Indonesians plant red palm oil as a source of income; however, in the process the communities destroy the biosystems of orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers (f).
Elephant species are at risk because of deforestation but also because of ivory trade. African cultures will often seek out elephants and kill them in order to cut off their tusks and sell them for high values on the blackmarket. Killing species for cash prizes or delicacies is not uncommon. The bladder of a Totoaba is highly sought after in Chinese cultures for unscientific healing purposes. The fishing practices for catching the Totoaba have wiped out Mexico’s Vaquitas porpoise populations because the fish get caught in nets (g). The Chinese culture also desires shark fin soup. The soup is considered a delicacy. This soup creates stress on shark population and efforts for controlling these shark hunts have been enforced. Unfortunately, the controls still have not greatly benefited shark populations because fisherman will catch sharks, chop off their fins and then toss the shark back into the oceans. One fin is much easier to hide than an entire shark.
Another delicacy is eating sea turtle eggs. In Central American countries, sea turtle eggs are considered to be an aphrodisiac. This creates high demand for the eggs. Poachers see the value of the eggs and walk beaches at night to find sea turtles laying eggs. The poachers will then steal the eggs and sell them on the blackmarket. Sea turtles already have a small chance of surviving to adulthood and the poachers do not make it any easier for the species to grow.
Modern Food Systems
Modern day agriculture and fishing practices also harm wildlife and habitats. America’s highly-intensive industrial agriculture economy has removed nature from the equation. The fear of legal disputes due to disease have put fear into purchasers and therefore the “family farms.” Farms are subject to follow protocols of the purchaser. Major corporations want to reduce the risk of disease by having farmers remove any shrubbery within a certain distance to the field. They have even mandated that rat traps filled with blood thinner surround the plots to avoid the potential of rat infestation.
The chemical inputs we use on farms also have destroyed habitats, wildlife and biodiversity. Roundup Ready fields make farming easy by reducing the need to manage weeds. Instead of manually pulling weeds, airplanes fly over the fields using chemical herbicide inputs. These inputs destroy soil quality and are toxic to bees and other species that help maintain a healthy environment.
Fishing practices destroy wildlife and habitats through our modern day methods. Bottom trawling nets are the most destructive method. Bottom trawling nets rake the bottoms of sea beds catching shrimp, cod, sole and flounder but also taking coral reefs and bycatch with them. Bycatch are fish that are unintentionally caught. Oftentimes marine life that must surface to breathe, like sea turtles, dolphins, seals, sea lions, whales, and otters, are caught in these nets and suffocate.
Dynamite fishing is another fishing method that destroys habitats and wildlife. Dynamite fishing is more commonly used in developed nations; however, it is still detrimental to marine life. Fishermen throw dynamite into marine areas. The dynamite explodes underwater, destroying the coral reefs and killing the marine species. The fishermen then collect the fish and leave the remaining area as is.
Human populations also create stress on our marine habitats through overfishing. Overfishing is fishing too much of a certain species to the point where the species has difficulty repopulating. This is a major threat to our marine ecosystems and could be a major cause for concern in the upcoming years.
The best way to solve these problems is to become more familiar with the issues. Climate change is a global issue. Global leaders meet to discuss climate change issues at Climate Change international conferences. While it may seem difficult to overcome, the best way to make a positive impact is by reducing consumption. Reduce household energy use, plastic consumption, meat consumption and fuel consumption. Buy local when possible. Purchase organic foods and products. When purchasing wood, buy wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Be careful to not release any foreign species into the wild.
Aquaponic systems and aquaculture systems are helping to counteract some of the stresses on agriculture and marine systems. Aquaponic systems are a closed-loop system that use fish fecal matter to fertilize plants. Over time the plants and the fish can be harvested for food. The closed-loop system saves literally hundreds upon thousands of gallons of water, depending on the size and location of the facility.
Aquaculture systems also help reduce stress on marine fish populations. While these systems are beneficial, some systems are less sustainable due to the hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into the systems. In order to make the most informed fish purchasing decision, download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watchlist Application. This application gives options on the most sustainable fish to buy and eat and categorizes them into Best Option, Good Alternative and Avoid, making it easy to make the right decision!
Finally, become familiar with the IUCN Global Species Programme, the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species and the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Ecosystems. The IUCN categorizes species based on their vulnerability in the wild caused by climatic and human conditions. The categories include least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild and extinct.
How Can Hemp Help?
Hemp can be used as a substitute for wood products. This means that fewer forests can be cut down because hemp as a resource can replace timber materials. Hemp foods also contain high quantities of Omega-3 leading to reduced demand for fish oil. Growing hemp also benefits avian species by providing additional food sources during migration, which leads to enhanced biodiversity!