Multiple habitats with increasing fragmentation

Vermont’s Northern Green Mountains, and some of the many habitats of Northern Appalachian/Acadian region, including spruce-fir forests on the summits, mixed hardwoods on the slopes, and farms, roads and towns in the valley bottoms. Photo by Conrad Reining.
The Northern Appalachian/Acadian region is an ecologically diverse area, dominated by spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests, extensive coastlines, inland mountain ranges, and glacially carved landscapes. It is an ecological transition zone between northern boreal and southern temperate forests, and will come increasingly to serve as a north-south biological corridor for species as their ranges shift northward in response to climate change.

Human Faultlines

The region is also home to many people, who have brought roads, and converted rich valley bottoms to farms and towns.  As human development expands across our towns and hillsides, many large forest patches are broken up into smaller islands of habitat in a sea of developed lands. Roads begin the process of breaking up large forest blocks into separate pieces in a process called fragmentation. The development of homes and buildings along those roads further decreases the size of the blocks and decreases their value for wildlife.

Confronted with development, wildlife does its best to adapt. Even if a patch of land is too small to be of much use on its own, wildlife can use it as stepping stone or pathway as they travel from one block to another. They might cross roads when there’s forest on both sides to protect them, they might follow streams where associated trees and brush provide necessary cover, and they sometimes even use hedgerows that cross open land to move between forested areas.

Limiting habitat fragmentation

As adaptive as wildlife species are, increased fragmentation leads to isolation and threatens their survival. Whether animals are roaming locally in search of food and safety or ranging across the region in a slow migration, they depend on habitat connectivity. Many of the connections that exist now are tenuous and could easily be lost if we do not plan our development carefully.