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Habitat Creation

Habitat Creation

When you were younger, did you ever make 'an ecosystem in a bottle'? If not, you can try it now. All you need is a glass jar, pebbles, soil, and a few patches of moss.

  1. Remove the lid and lay the jar on its side.

  2. Add a base of pebbles to the jar.

  3. Cover the pebbles with a thin layer of soil.

  4. Dip your patches of moss into water, then gently squeeze out the excess.

  5. Place your damp moss into the jar.

  6. Put the lid back on the jar.

Congratulations! You've created your own habitat.


Habitat Creation: Definition

First, let's recap habitats.

A habitat is the place that an organism lives.

So, what's habitat creation?

Habitat creation is the formation or extension of ecosystems with the aim of enhancing biodiversity.

The Five Components of a Habitat

Good habitats require five essential elements.

  • Food is needed for energy.

  • Water is needed for hydration and photosynthesis.

  • Shelter provides protection from the elements and predators.

  • Space is necessary to avoid competition or form territories.

  • Arrangement is the placement of food, water, shelter, and space in a habitat. Ideally, these four elements occur in a small area.

Habitat Creation and Restoration

Human activities have led to habitat destruction, affecting wildlife and threatening species with extinction. Wildlife conservation aims to support wildlife survival by reversing the destruction.

Creating New Habitats

Establishing new habitats is a good method of counteracting habitat destruction. Landowners and farmers around the UK are encouraged to convert sites with potential into new, natural habitats. Creating new habitats can take place at a variety of scales, from a wildflower patch at the end of your garden, to planting a new woodland on a brownfield site.

A brownfield site is an area of previously developed land that is no longer in use.

It's easiest to create new habitats nearby pre-existing ones.

Woodlands

Ancient woodlands are woods that have existed since at least 1600 CE, and support complex irreplaceable ecosystems. Sadly, up to 70% of the UK's ancient woodlands have been lost.

Not to fear though – planting trees and shrubs can lead to a proper woodland habitat in just 30 years.

When creating a woodland habitat, the following should be considered:

  • Proximity to buildings and services

  • Local species

  • Habitat size

  • Shading

  • Diversity of existing site – e.g. don't plant trees on a wildflower meadow

Wetlands

Before the Roman era, 25% of the British Isles was covered by wetlands (ecosystems covered by or saturated with water).

Wetland habitats include swamps, marshes, estuaries, and mangroves.

Wetlands are ecologically important, and can support a high species diversity. Constructed wetlands consist of a depression with a level bottom, that is filled with water.

Constructed wetlands can be used to filter out sediments and trace metals in wastewater.

Habitat Creation wetlands creation bird diversity StudySmarterFig. 1 - Wetland habitats support a high diversity of bird species. Unsplash

When creating a wetland habitat, the following should be considered:

  • Proximity to buildings and services

  • Site hydrology

  • Depth of the depression

  • Water source

  • Water quality

  • Soil and underlying rock

Restoring Old Habitats

Habitat restoration is the rehabilitation of an area to recreate a functioning ecosystem. Restoring a habitat involves management, protection, and re-establishing local plant populations.

When restoring a habitat, it's essential to understand species interactions, as well as the abiotic factors and human influences affecting the habitat.

Rewilding

The concept of rewilding is linked to habitat restoration.

Rewilding is a conservation approach where nature is allowed to take care of itself. Natural, undisturbed processes repair damaged ecosystems and landscapes.

Rewilding has the potential to boost biodiversity, but it has been criticised by farmers and rural businesses.

Unintentional Habitat Creation

Most habitat creation is intentional, with the aim of restoring wildlife. However, some habitats have been made accidentally. A good example is roadside verges.

Roadside verges are strips of vegetation alongside motorways and other roads. They prevent flooding, store highway equipment, and provide a safe place for drivers who experience a breakdown. The total area covered by roadside verges is thought to equal the size of the Lake District National Park.

Habitat Creation roadside verge unintentional habitat creation StudySmarterFig. 2 - A roadside verge, home to long grasses. Unsplash

Roadside verges have become important habitats for wild plants – over 700 wildflower species can be found in verges around the UK. The undisturbed, nutrient-poor soils provide perfect conditions for plants to survive. Verges can help to reconnect and restore larger habitats by acting as corridors, allowing plants and animals to disperse and repopulate different areas.

We'll go into corridors in more detail later on.

Habitat Creation: Management

Once established, new or restored habitats need to be managed to maintain species diversity. Some habitat management techniques are summarised here.

Removal of alien species: invasive species may outcompete the protected species, disrupting the ecological community.

Establishing brush piles: piles of brush (dense bushes) assembled to provide cover and den sites for animals.

Creating snags: snags are (partially) dead standing trees. They provide a variety of benefits to wildlife, including cavities, perches, and food.

Fencing: when growing new plants, it may be necessary to protect plants from grazing mammals until they are well established.

Building nest boxes: these provide potential nesting sites for birds, and allow for easy monitoring.

Maintaining spring seeps: these natural water sources flow to the surface to form small streams. They are important during harsh winters when most water is frozen. Spring seeps can be maintained by protecting them from agricultural pollution, or preventing clear-cutting nearby.

Coppicing: the woodland management technique of felling trees at their base is known as coppicing. It may seem counterintuitive, but it has a variety of positive impacts. Felling trees increase light availability on the ground, allowing other species to grow there. Furthermore, coppicing results in a varied age structure, which provides diverse habitat and cover.

Habitat Creation and Fragmentation

The physical structure of habitats may affect the success of conservation programmes.

Habitat Area

Larger habitats are more effective than smaller ones. Habitat size is positively correlated with species diversity.

Minimum Viable Population (MVP)

The minimum viable population is the smallest population size required to sustain a population.

Large animals, or those with a low population density, require a greater habitat area to support an MVP.

Habitat Shape

Rounder habitats with a regular shape have a lower edge area, minimising edge effects.

Edge effects are changes in population or community structures that occur at the boundary of a habitat.

Habitat edges typically experience reduced biodiversity.

Age Structure

Age structure is the proportion of individuals in different age categories. It's closely tied to habitat stability, which is defined as the variability between age classes of the population.

Stable populations tend to have relatively more individuals of reproductive age.

Species Introduction

It may be difficult to introduce the desired species to a new habitat. Disturbance, the size of a habitat, the shape of a habitat, and proximity to other habitats can affect introduction success.

Biological Corridors

A biological corridor is a long, thin area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures.

Corridors are a popular approach to maintain connectivity – both structural and functional.

  • Structural connectivity is the physical connection of habitats.

  • Functional connectivity is the ability for species of interest to disperse between habitats.

Habitat Creation: Examples

Get inspired with these habitat creation success stories.

The Danube Delta

A rewilding project in the Ukrainian Danube Delta has been successful at restoring natural wetland habitats. Ten obsolete dams were removed, restoring natural river processes. Water buffalo were released onto Ermakov Island, with the aim of boosting diversity of flora and fauna.

Welsh Seagrass Restoration

Over one million seagrass seeds have been collected in Porthdinllaen, North Wales. The seeds were grown in aquaria and planted in a degraded seagrass bed near Dale, West Wales. The restored habitat will boost marine life and store carbon.

Reforestation in Tanzania

The Kwimba region experienced widespread deforestation during the 20th century. A nine-year project planted 6.4 million trees in the area. A unique feature of this project was 'tree ownership certificates', which entitled the owner to a tree, regardless of who owned the land it was planted on.


I hope that this article has explained habitat creation for you; it's the formation or extension of ecosystems with the aim of enhancing biodiversity. The physical structure of habitats need to be considered. Once established, habitats should be managed to ensure their conservation success.

Habitat Creation - Key takeaways

  • Habitat creation is the formation or extension of ecosystems with the aim of enhancing biodiversity. A good habitat requires food, water, shelter, space, and an appropriate arrangement of these features.
  • Habitats can be created from scratch (woodlands and wetlands are common examples), or restored after degradation. Restoration is associated with rewilding – where nature is allowed to take care of itself.
  • Some habitats are created unintentionally, such as roadside verges.
  • Once established, habitats need to be managed. Techniques include removal of alien species, establishing brush piles, creating snags, setting up fencing, building nest boxes, maintaining spring seeps, and coppicing.
  • The physical structure of habitats can affect the project's success. Structural traits include habitat area, habitat shape, age structure, and biological corridors.

1. Emma Oldham, 8 Marine Rewilding Projects Around Britain, Rewilding Britain, 2022

2. Forest Research, Wetland habitats, 2022

3. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, 5 Successful Reforestation Projects, Insteading, 2019

4. Open Access Government, Six conservation success stories of 2019, 2019

5. Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Woodland Creation, 2022

6. Woodland Trust, Ancient Woodland, 2022

7. Yvonne Da Silva, Why road verges are important habitats for wildflowers and animals, Natural History Museum, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions about Habitat Creation

Habitat creation is the formation or extension of ecosystems with the aim of enhancing biodiversity.

The five components of a habitat are food, water, shelter, space, and arrangement.

Abiotic factors, human influences, and species interactions create a habitat.

Habitats are home to many rare species, and provide resources for humans. Habitats are under threat from human activities, so their conservation is crucial.

A good habitat provides the essential resources an organism needs to survive: food, water, shelter, and space.

Final Habitat Creation Quiz

Question

Define habitat.

Show answer

Answer

A habitat is the place that an organism lives.

Show question

Question

What is habitat creation?

Show answer

Answer

Habitat creation is the formation or extension of ecosystems with the aim of enhancing biodiversity.

Show question

Question

What are the five components of a habitat?

Show answer

Answer

The five components of a habitat are food, water, shelter, space, and arrangement.

Show question

Question

Habitat creation often takes place on brownfield sites. What is a brownfield site?

Show answer

Answer

A brownfield site is an area of previously developed land that is no longer in use.

Show question

Question

How much of the UK's ancient woodland has been lost?

Show answer

Answer

70%

Show question

Question

What are wetlands?

Show answer

Answer

Wetlands are ecosystems covered by or saturated with water.

Show question

Question

What is habitat restoration?

Show answer

Answer

Habitat restoration is the rehabilitation of an area to recreate a functioning ecosystem.

Show question

Question

What is rewilding?

Show answer

Answer

Rewilding is a conservation approach where nature is allowed to take care of itself. Natural, undisturbed processes repair damaged ecosystems and landscapes.

Show question

Question

How many wildflower species are found in roadside verges?

Show answer

Answer

700+

Show question

Question

What are some benefits of coppicing?

Show answer

Answer

Coppicing increases light availability on the ground, allowing other species to grow there. Coppicing also creates a varied age structure, providing diverse habitat and cover. 

Show question

Question

Why might fencing be necessary when restoring habitats?

Show answer

Answer

Fencing may be necessary to protect growing plants from grazing mammals.

Show question

Question

What is the minimum viable population?

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Answer

The minimum viable population is the smallest population size required to sustain a population.

Show question

Question

What are edge effects?

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Answer

Edge effects are changes in population or community structures that occur at the boundary of a habitat.

Show question

Question

What is a biological corridor?

Show answer

Answer

A biological corridor is a long, thin area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures.

Show question

Question

Structural connectivity is the ability for species of interest to disperse between habitats.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

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