Habitat

Urban and rural spaces for plants and animals, connectivity

HABITAT- IT’S WHERE WE LIVE

Habitat is where we live. It might be in a high rise building in the city centre; it might be in a single family home in an urban neighbourhood with tree lined streets and small shops a few blocks away; or perhaps it is in the suburbs on a large lot covered with grass, shrubs and wildflowers which we plant and tend. Some of us live in villages and small towns surrounded by farms, wetlands and forests. And some of us live on these farms and provide food for communities nearby and far away. The nearby city is a source of employment, consumer goods, culture, sports and entertainment.

Our habitats are found in many different ecosystems. An ecosystem is an interdependent community of plants and animals and the non-living things such as water, soil and air that support it. The National Capital Region is part of the Ottawa River Watershed, which is a

part of a bioregion also known as the Great Lakes/St Lawrence River watershed.

More and more of us on Earth now live in urban ecosystems, which depend on the surrounding rural areas and even further away for food, energy, organic materials and inorganic materials. In return our cities produce and export products and services, money and culture that enrich rural life. The city and the nearby countryside are linked and mutually interdependent.

There are many animals that are able to exploit the habitats that we have created in the city. For example, spiders and silverfish live in our damp dark basements and in our cats’ litter boxes. Pigeons thrive in intensely populated cities as do sparrows and starlings. They are able to nest in our homes, on porches, under bridges and on highrises and feed on our handouts, our garbage as well as on insects and plants. Racoons and skunks find refuge in attics and under garden sheds. Robins and cardinals can live in urban areas too, in back yards and urban forests, as do squirrels and bats. Gulls, redwing blackbirds and Canada geese are often seen feeding by urban waterways next to busy roads.

Rodents such as mice and rats live in our homes and our sewers and our garbage dumps. Groundhogs can often been seen grazing in green spaces along highways and beavers are common in our rivers where they flow through urban areas. In urban rivers and along the shorelines can be found muskrat, great blue heron, cormorants and various species of ducks. These animals use our waterways to travel as explorers and settlers once did.

Black bears, white-tailed deer, red fox and beaver may even stray onto city streets and become confused when they leave their natural habitat such as nearby Gatineau Park, the greenbelt around Ottawa and the Ottawa River and enter ours by error. Their appearance in our neighbourhoods can cause a great deal of consternation for both them and us.

Many of us are happy to see the birds, mammals and insects who share our urban ecosystem with its many habitats, whether a damp basement, overgrown right of way, or river shoreline. We love wildflowers, shrubs and trees and feel good when we spend

some time outdoors. We also enjoy going out into the countryside to enjoy nature in a quieter setting. We may not enjoy mosquitoes or rats and we may worry about diseases that animals carry but we would feel impoverished if our urban and rural landscapes were bereft of wildlife. Consequently it is important for us to find out about the habitats that wildlife need and to consider their needs when we are planning both the urban and rural parts of the city.

If we wish to retain a diverse urban ecosystem with many habitats for us and wildlife and plants, we need to maintain urban forests and wetlands. The Britannia Conservation area is a good place to see great horned owls and painted turtles. Carlington Woods, a small area surrounded by residential and industrial development is habitat for oak, hickory and basswood and a great place to see migrating birds. Baxter Conservation Area includes diverse habitats such as marsh and forested wetland.

It is important that we retain these habitats. We need to connect green spaces in the urban area with suburban and rural green spaces so that animals don’t become isolated and can have more opportunities to finding mates for breeding. We need to protect our wetland habitats, not just for the animals that live and reproduce there but also for the natural services that they provide for us such as water retention and water filtration.

Our urban ecosystem is dependant on food and energy from the surrounding rural areas and even from places far away. The surroundings receive waste from the city. People spend energy travelling from rural to urban areas and the roads we need disrupt habitats for the animals that live around us. When we expand our city, especially into suburban and rural habitats we may be reducing the amount of agricultural land which we may need in future when the cost of transporting food from across North America and the world becomes to expensive and too polluting. Major roads cut across animal travel routes and cause accidents dangerous for both animals and humans.

There are lots of good reasons for us to spend some time thinking about our place in the world and that of the other animals and plants with whom we share it. Humans are so adaptable and we are able to live in so many different ecosystems and extend our habitats to so many different corners of the world. Some of our fellow earthlings can live with us. On the other hand there are other animals whose requirements are more exacting and they will not survive if their habitats are not protected. Our world would be impoverished if polar bears disappeared, or blue whales or mighty bald eagles. There is much we can do to protect and even recreate habitats for our fellow earthlings in an around our city. And we can work with others to protect endangered habitat worldwide.

Leandrea Kane-draft 2, August 7, 2009