During the summer, our student Brittany prepared this awesome blog for us about a topic she was passionate about: habitat (and farmland) fragmentation!
Habitat fragmentation is the process of large areas of habitat being divided into smaller, unconnected areas of land.1 While this can happen with natural disturbances like forest fires, earthquakes, or flooding, the biggest contributor to habitat fragmentation is from human growth and expansion.1
Farmland itself acts as a habitat to many species, so when the agricultural system is fragmented, so is the habitat that these species rely on. Grassland species in particular are heavily reliant on the hay fields and pastures in Ontario2. Grassland birds are known as habitat specialists3, which means that they rely heavily on one type of habitat. As grassland habitats (including pastureland and hay fields) disappear, so do the birds that rely on these ecosystems. Farms and farmers play an important role in the protection of many species, and grassland species are no exception.
When we lose farmland, we lose productive ecosystems and habitat for species at risk. When our agricultural system is fragmented with non-agricultural development, it can impede species’ ability to move throughout the landscape, forage, and nest successfully. Additionally, when our agricultural system is fragmented by development it makes it harder for farmers to travel between farms, which can hinder farm operations. A strong contiguous agricultural land base is crucial for a strong food system, and policy tools like the Agricultural System can help protect the connectivity of agricultural land within the landscape.
We need to protect the agricultural land that we have both for the sake of future generations of Ontarians, and for the wildlife that depends on it.
Throughout the spring and summer I have been able to hear and see many at risk grassland birds nesting and foraging in the diverse ecosystems that farmland creates. This has been an poignant reminder of just how important farmland protection is to all.
- Franklin, Alan & Noon, Barry & George, T. 2002. What is habitat fragmentation? Studies in Avian Biology. 25. 20-29.
- Ontario Soil Crop. 2016. Farming with Grassland Birds.
- Birds Canada. 2005. Where the Bobolinks Roam.
- Nature Canada. 2016. Managing Hay and Pasture to Benefit Grassland Birds in Ontario.