How is habitat fragmentation different than habitat destruction?

1 Answer
Jun 11, 2018


Habitat fragmentation and habitat destruction are very much interconnected. Read the definitions below for more information.


Habitat fragmentation and habitat destruction are very much interconnected.

Habitat fragmentation describes the process by which continuous preferred habitat is broken into distinct smaller areas.

Habitat destruction describes the process by which preferred habitat is destroyed; it has been changed to the point where it can no longer be used by the organisms that once used it.

A habitat can be destroyed without being fragmented. If an entire forest is harvested for timber, this would not be an example of fragmentation. Alternatively, a habitat can be fragmented and we might not describe it as "destroyed". While a road dividing a desert ecosystem would certainly fragment and divide the habitat, if the habitat is still functional for species, it isn't really destroyed. It is certainly no longer pristine habitat and habitat fragmentation has serious consequences, but we likely wouldn't refer to this as habitat destruction.

Habitat fragmentation occurs when a road is put into a landscape, whether this is a forest or a grassland. It also occurs when development of residential, urban, or commercial area breaks up habitat. Agricultural fields can break up continuous habitat, as in the image below.

Habitats are destroyed by anthropogenic and natural activities and they can be destroyed gradually or immediately. Conversion of forest to agricultural fields is an example of habitat destruction. Dumping wastewater into a river so that it can no longer sustain life is also an example of habitat destruction. Natural examples include tropical storms or extreme events such as a volcanic eruption rendering a habitat unusable.

Below is an example of trash accumulating on a beach, destroying this coastal habitat.