What is the fragmentation of ecosystems

Knowing about ecosystem fragmentation will help you make long-term business decisions that’ll benefit both your business and nature.

Article credit: Biodiversity Scientist, Amelia Jeffrey & Head of Ecosystem Science, Dr Claire Burke

Do you know how the distribution of natural land on your site impacts biodiversity?

Understanding this is now a reporting requirement, and will help you make long-term business decisions that’ll benefit both your business and nature.

What is fragmentation?

In a pristine ecosystem, habitats are easy to traverse by the species which naturally occur in them. Ease of movement is important for wildlife - both animals and plants. Being able to move yourself, or your offspring around a habitat means:

  • Species can access new and vital resources
  • Animals can follow prey
  • Animals and plants can take advantage of other food sources
  • Increased chance of finding genetically diverse mates
  • Plus a host of other advantages

Fragmentation of natural habitats results from the division of contiguous and interconnected ecosystems into smaller, isolated patches. This may be a result of natural events or human activities such as urbanisation, agriculture, or infrastructure development.

Fragmented habitats cause disturbance across the ecological spectrum including: 

  • Disruption in wildlife migration patterns
  • Isolation of species populations
  • Greater susceptibility to environmental stresses

Identifying and measuring fragmentation of natural lands on sites allows you to develop informed strategies to mitigate these negative impacts and take positive action, whilst preserving critical habitats and promoting sustainable land-use practices.

Measuring the Core Area

There are numerous ways to calculate the fragmentation of natural ecosystems, each offering unique insights into the spatial arrangement and connectivity of habitats. Our approach at natcap, quantifies the amount of ‘core area’ in a specified boundary. 

The ‘core area’ is the central, interior portion of a natural habitat patch that is more than a minimum distance from the edge of the patch. 

Core area is important. The boundaries of natural land patches are where the interface with human activities can become disruptive to natural ecosystems. Wildlife needs to have a buffer zone between us to really thrive. As a result natural patch edges often have distinct microclimates and soil conditions relative to core areas, leading to different ecological dynamics, higher fluctuations in environmental conditions, and greater susceptibility to external disturbances.

Example of fragmentation with isolated natural land in a site

In this example of an oil and gas site, you can see there are patches of natural vegetation within the site. However, when measured through the lens of fragmentation, you can see that these result in mostly non-core natural land. This is cause for very high concern, as the surrounding landscape is mainly natural and unfragmented land.

Why use fragmentation as a metric?

This metric informs you about how useful the natural land on your site is for wildlife. If you have lots of tiny patches of natural land – clumps of a few trees perhaps, then the core area which is useful for species is very low. If all of the natural land on your site is in one large patch then this benefits ecosystems much more.

Knowing about the fragmentation of a landscape, and how natural lands are distributed and fragmented on your site is a reporting requirement, but it also allows you to identify areas where you can easily take action to improve your relationship with nature.

If you have sites with infrastructure and want to measure your impact on them, natcap can help.

Get in touch with us to find out more about how you can integrate nature intelligence to make stronger business decisions.

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