Habitat destruction is when a habitat is no longer able to support the plants, animals, or other organisms that live in it. When this happens, the organisms could die. Some might move to other places.
Habitat loss can also be caused by the actions of people. For example, when trees are cut down, birds who nested in the trees can no longer live there. Clearing grassland to make room for buildings can take away habitat.
Biodiversity hotspots are chiefly tropical regions that feature high concentrations of endemic species and, when all hotspots are combined, may contain over half of the world’s terrestrial species. These hotspots are suffering from habitat loss and destruction. Most of the natural habitat on islands and in areas of high human population density has already been destroyed (WRI, 2003). Islands suffering extreme habitat destruction include New Zealand, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Japan. South and East Asia — especially China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan — and many areas in West Africa have extremely dense human populations that allow little room for natural habitat. Marine areas close to highly populated coastal cities also face degradation of their coral reefs or other marine habitat. These areas include the eastern coasts of Asia and Africa, northern coasts of South America, and the Caribbean Sea and its associated islands.
Regions of unsustainable agriculture or unstable governments, which may go hand-in-hand, typically experience high rates of habitat destruction. Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Amazonian tropical rainforest areas of South America are the main regions with unsustainable agricultural practices and/or government mismanagement.
Areas of high agricultural output tend to have the highest extent of habitat destruction. In the U.S., less than 25% of native vegetation remains in many parts of the East and Midwest. Only 15% of land area remains unmodified by human activities in all of Europe.
Tropical rainforests have received most of the attention concerning the destruction of habitat. From the approximately 16 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest habitat that originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million square kilometers remain today. The current rate of deforestation is 160,000 square kilometers per year, which equates to a loss of approximately 1% of original forest habitat each year.
Other forest ecosystems have suffered as much or more destruction as tropical rainforests. Farming and logging have severely disturbed at least 94% of temperate broadleaf forests; many old growth forest stands have lost more than 98% of their previous area because of human activities. Tropical deciduous dry forests are easier to clear and burn and are more suitable for agriculture and cattle ranching than tropical rainforests; consequently, less than 0.1% of dry forests in Central America's Pacific Coast and less than 8% in Madagascar remain from their original extents.
Plains and desert areas have been degraded to a lesser extent. Only 10-20% of the world's drylands, which include temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, scrub, and deciduous forests, have been somewhat degraded. But included in that 10-20% of land is the approximately 9 million square kilometers of seasonally dry-lands that humans have converted to deserts through the process of desertification. The tallgrass prairies of North America, on the other hand, have less than 3% of natural habitat remaining that has not been converted to farmland.
Wetlands and marine areas have endured high levels of habitat destruction. More than 50% of wetlands in the U.S. have been destroyed in just the last 200 years. Between 60% and 70% of European wetlands have been completely destroyed. In the United Kingdom, there has been an increase in demand for coastal housing and tourism which has caused a decline in marine habitats over the last 60 years. The rising sea levels and temperatures has caused soil erosion, coastal flooding, and loss of quality in the UK marine ecosystem. About one-fifth (20%) of marine coastal areas have been highly modified by humans. One-fifth of coral reefs have also been destroyed, and another fifth has been severely degraded by overfishing, pollution, and invasive species; 90% of the Philippines’ coral reefs alone have been destroyed. Finally, over 35% mangrove ecosystems worldwide have been destroyed.
Habitat destruction through natural processes such as volcanism, fire, and climate change is well documented in the fossil record. One study shows that habitat fragmentation of tropical rainforests in Euramerica 300 million years ago led to a great loss of amphibian diversity, but simultaneously the drier climate spurred on a burst of diversity among reptiles.
Habitat destruction caused by humans includes land conversion from forests, etc. to arable land, urban sprawl, infrastructure development, and other anthropogenic changes to the characteristics of land. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by humans that do not necessarily involve over destruction of habitat, yet result in habitat collapse. Desertification, deforestation, and coral reef degradation are specific types of habitat destruction for those areas (deserts, forests, coral reefs).
Rising global temperatures, caused by the greenhouse effect, contribute to habitat destruction, endangering various species, such as the polar bear. Melting ice caps promote rising sea levels and floods which threaten natural habitats and species globally.
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The draining and development of coastal wetlands that previously protected the Gulf Coast contributed to severe flooding in New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
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