Friday, November 25, 2011

An Uphill Battle

Although it has been stated time and time again that fragmentation is a very severe concern of conservation ecology efforts, it has proven very difficult to remedy. In an article by John A. Bissonette and Ilse Storch titled, “Fragmentation: Is the Message Clear?,” various important points were made regarding obstacles that one must overcome in order to even begin to tackle the immeasurable issue of fragmentation in an ecosystem. Due to the sheer complexity of ecology, it seems more common for ‘easier’ problems to be addressed as opposed to harder ones due to a lack of technology. Unfortunately, the harder problems tend to be the more pressing and important ones.

In a study performed by Debinski and Holt (2000), they performed a survey of habitat fragmentation experiments in which they comprised percentages of truth for each of six areas of concern regarding fragmentation: 1) species richness vs. area, 2) species abundance vs. area density, 3) the effect of fragmentation on interspecific interactions, 4) the effect of edge on ecosystem ‘services,’ 5) correlation between corridors and movement between fragments, and 6) if connectivity increase species richness. The validity of each of the hypotheses was >50% for only 2 comparisons; based on experimental evidence it was 66.6% true that there was a correlation between edge effect and ecosystem ‘service,’ and it was 80% true that fragmentation inhibits the development of corridors and that connectivity and movement are directly proportional. However, the lack of substantiation for the remaining 4 categories suggests that such seemingly basic interactions are actually very complex and very difficult to confirm experimentally. Debinski and Holt (2000) suggest that such inconsistent results can be due to time lags, exclusivity in social interactions between certain species, and the sheer vastness of the scale being studied. Time lags, in particular, make it very difficult to conduct conclusive studies. There are so many different time scales to consider when examining different environments that it becomes quite intricate. In addition, it is nearly impossible to couple both temporal and spatial schemes on such large scales. One example mentioned in the article was that of the worldwide distribution of forests that takes place over the long time span of tens of thousands of years. It is impossible for any one person to gather and analyze data over such a long period of time, far greater than that of any lifespan.

Furthermore, they examined whether quantitative or qualitative analyses was better when attempting to study habitat fragmentation and determined that regardless of the method used, the results were still the same: unclear and inconclusive. Similarly to weather predictions, ecology predictions are harder once they exceed predicting the immediate future due to unforeseeable factors that may come into play in the future. For this reason, it appears that ecologists have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Works Cited:

Bissonette, John A.,and Ilse Storch. “Fragmentation: Is the Message Clear?.” Conservation Ecology 6.2 (2002): 14. 20 November 2011.

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