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The Earth has only so much space for us and our non-human neighbors.

In this lesson, we will learn about how humans impact the environment, what causes habitat fragmentation, and what ecological conservation can do to help.

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Human Environmental Impacts

Our Earth has just so much space and just so many resources for the species that live here. As humans, we often forget that we share our planet with many other species, taking what we need and/or want from our surroundings and putting the neighboring non-human species at risk of starvation, loss of habitat, and even extinction.All of what we need to survive, as well as everything we want, comes from the Earth. We harvest trees to build homes; we drain lakes and underground aquifers for drinking, cleaning, and supporting agriculture.

Coal, oil, and natural gas extraction destroy multiple habitats to power our cars, cell phones, and computers. We clear land to grow more food and to build more homes for ourselves.We harvest wild and farmed plants and animals to feed ourselves. We introduce invasive species that disrupt the natural balance of ecosystems and create tremendous impacts upon the native species.Everything we do impacts the world around us.

We are destroying coral reefs, reducing biodiversity, unbalancing the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and even impacting our own health.

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation

Many human activities, such as farming, development, deforestation, mining, and environmental pollution, are very destructive to natural habitats. These activities cause habitat fragmentation, which splits larger habitats into smaller disconnected spaces or eliminates them completely.Human impact on natural habitats is the biggest threat to biodiversity. This impact causes animals to lose access to resources they need for survival, unless they travel across roads or other dangerous areas close to humans.

Habitat fragmentation occurs not only in urban areas, but also in rural areas. Logging and logging roads fragment forests. Dams alter wetlands, and development along coastal areas, oil spills, trash, and cargo ship accidents pollute our oceans, affecting freshwater and marine habitats.Fragmentation reduces the amount of functional habitat available, and isolates species populations into sub-populations that may be near the minimum viable population size to risk local extinction from resource competition, disease, and natural disasters. Some species may not be able to travel between fragmented patches of their ecosystem, causing them to suffer from inbreeding, increasing their risk of disease.

If habitat fragmentation affects keystone populations, which are those that form a central support within an ecosystem, the entire ecosystem can fail. Fragmentation can cause a keystone species to disappear or overpopulate, which has a ripple effect and consequently causes overpopulation or loss of other species within the ecosystem.


Humans consume more than we need, particularly in industrialized countries. We harvest plants and animals and other resources much faster than populations can recover. This is called overharvesting. This is especially prevalent in our oceans where we have reduced some species to near extinction by overfishing.

We now consume fish that were once thought of as trash fish.Clear-cutting forests is overharvesting of trees. Poaching has put animals such as tigers, rhinoceroses, and elephants at serious risk of extinction.

Ecological Conservation

There are numerous ways to counter human environmental impact through ecological conservation.

One example is wildlife corridors, which link areas of larger habitats together. They work like roads for animals, including over- or under-passes for crossing busy roads. Strict poaching laws and armed guards protect some of our most imperiled species. Reforestation helps return trees to logged areas.

Protecting our oceans requires cooperation between all nations and coastlines. Sanctuary zones allow marine creatures space to recover from over fishing, pollutants, and other impacts.Fish farms are producing fish for human consumption, counteracting overharvesting. Many urban areas all over the world are encouraging rooftop and community gardens for growing food.

New technologies in water permeable roadways conserve water and reduce heat returning to the atmosphere.These are a few of the ways conservation biologists are working to counter habitat fragmentation and human environmental impact. Human activities do not have to cause irreparable harm to the Earth and its inhabitants.

With ecological conservation management and planning for biodiversity from genes to ecosystems, we can mutually exist in sustainable ways with nature.

Lesson Summary

Human environmental impact on habitats has major consequences for those animals dependent on those ecosystems for survival. These include:

  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Starvation
  • Habitat loss
  • Extinction

The types of human activities that cause the above impacts include:

  • Deforestation, including logging and logging roads
  • Coal, oil, and natural gas extraction, and other types of mining
  • Farming
  • Development of homes and other structures for human use
  • Overharvesting of plants and animals for food, as well as other resources such as ores, minerals, etc.
  • Environmental pollution, including aquatic trash and pollution
  • Dams

Ecological conservation can help to diminish the effects of human environmental impact by use of:

  • Wildlife corridors
  • Strict poaching laws
  • Reforestation
  • Sanctuary zones
  • Fish farms
  • Urban gardening
  • Permeable roadways

Human Environmental Impact: Key Terms

Habitat Fragmentation
Term Explanation
Habitat fragmentation Splits larger habitats into smaller disconnected spaces or eliminates them completely
Keystone populations Species that forms a central support within an ecosystem; if the population fails, the entire ecosystem can fail
Overharvesting Harvesting plants and animals and other resources much faster than populations can recover
Ecological conservation Working to counter or diminish the effects of human environmental impact
Wildlife corridors Link areas of larger habitats together; roads for animals, including over- or under-passes for crossing busy roads

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson ends, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the causes and effects of human environmental impact
  • Describe the impact of human activities on natural habitats
  • Detail examples of ecological conservation

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