Animal Habitat Loss


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 Photo A shows an orangutan hanging from a wire in a lush rainforest filled with many different kinds of vegetation. Photo B shows a tiger. Map C shows the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in the south Pacific, just northwest of Australia. Sumatra is in the country of Indonesia. Half of Borneo is in Indonesia, and half is in Malaysia. Photo D shows a gray elephant. Photo E shows rolling hills covered with homogenous short, bushy oil palm trees.
(a) One of three species of orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus, is found only in the rainforests of Borneo, and an other species of orangutan (Pongo abelii) is found only in the rainforests of Sumatra. These animals are examples of the exceptional biodiversity of (c) the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Other species include the (b) Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and the (d) Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), both critically endangered species. Rainforest habitat is being removed to make way for (e) oil palm plantations such as this one in Borneo’s Sabah Province. (credit a: modification of work by Thorsten Bachner; credit b: modification of work by Dick Mudde; credit c: modification of work by U.S. CIA World Factbook; credit d: modification of work by “Nonprofit Organizations”/Flickr; credit e: modification of work by Dr. Lian Pin Koh)

OpenStax Biology 2e

Humans rely on technology to modify their environment and replace certain functions that were once performed by the natural ecosystem. Other species cannot do this. Elimination of their ecosystem—whether it is a forest, a desert, a grassland, a freshwater estuarine, or a marine environment—will kill the individuals belonging to the species. The species will become extinct if we remove the entire habitat within the range of a species. Human destruction of habitats accelerated in the latter half of the twentieth century. Consider the exceptional biodiversity of Sumatra: it is home to one species of orangutan, a species of critically endangered elephant, and the Sumatran tiger, but half of Sumatra’s forest is now gone. The neighboring island of Borneo, home to the other species of orangutan, has lost a similar area of forest. Forest loss continues in protected areas of Borneo. All three species of orangutan are now listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but they are simply the most visible of thousands of species that will not survive the disappearance of the forests in Sumatra and Borneo. The forests are removed for timber and to plant palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in many products including food products, cosmetics, and biodiesel in Europe. A five-year estimate of global forest cover loss for the years 2000–2005 was 3.1 percent. In the humid tropics where forest loss is primarily from timber extraction, 272,000 km2 was lost out of a global total of 11,564,000 km2 (or 2.4 percent). In the tropics, these losses certainly also represent the extinction of species because of high levels of endemism—species unique to a defined geographic location, and found nowhere else.

Habitat destruction can affect ecosystems other than forests. Rivers and streams are important ecosystems that are frequently modified through land development, damming, channelizing, or water removal. Damming affects the water flow to all parts of a river, which can reduce or eliminate populations that had adapted to the natural flow of the river. For example, an estimated 91 percent of United States rivers have been altered in some way. Modifications include dams, to create energy or store water; levees, to prevent flooding; and dredging or rerouting, to create land that is more suitable for human development. Many fish and amphibian species and numerous freshwater clams in the United States have seen declines caused by river damming and habitat loss.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


Research Article: Predicting Species Abundance in the Face of Habitat Loss

Date Published: October 26, 2006 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Liza Gross Abstract: None Partial Text: Habitat loss poses the greatest threat to the survival of a species, and often precipitates the demise of top predators and wide-ranging animals, like the Siberian tiger and the orangutan. Any hope of recovering such critically endangered species … Continue reading

Research Article: Habitat Loss other than Fragmentation per se Decreased Nuclear and Chloroplast Genetic Diversity in a Monoecious Tree

Date Published: June 18, 2012 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Xin Zhang, Miao-Miao Shi, Dong-Wei Shen, Xiao-Yong Chen, Giovanni G. Vendramin. Abstract: Generally, effect of fragmentation per se on biodiversity has not been separated from the effect of habitat loss. In this paper, using nDNA and cpDNA SSRs, we studied genetic diversity of Castanopsis … Continue reading

Research Article: The Relationship between Habitat Loss and Fragmentation during Urbanization: An Empirical Evaluation from 16 World Cities

Date Published: April 28, 2016 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Zhifeng Liu, Chunyang He, Jianguo Wu, Paulo De Marco Júnior. Abstract: Urbanization results in habitat loss and habitat fragmentation concurrently, both influencing biodiversity and ecological processes. To evaluate these impacts, it is important to understand the relationships between habitat loss and habitat fragmentation … Continue reading

Research Article: Forest Loss and the Biodiversity Threshold: An Evaluation Considering Species Habitat Requirements and the Use of Matrix Habitats

Date Published: December 4, 2013 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Candelaria Estavillo, Renata Pardini, Pedro Luís Bernardo da Rocha, Adina Maya Merenlender. Abstract: Habitat loss is the main driver of the current biodiversity crisis, a landscape-scale process that affects the survival of spatially-structured populations. Although it is well-established that species responses to habitat loss … Continue reading

Research Article: Low Reproductive Rate Predicts Species Sensitivity to Habitat Loss: A Meta-Analysis of Wetland Vertebrates

Date Published: March 20, 2014 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Pauline E. Quesnelle, Kathryn E. Lindsay, Lenore Fahrig, Benedikt R. Schmidt. Abstract: We tested the hypotheses that species with greater mobility and/or higher reproductive rates are less sensitive to habitat loss than species with lower mobility and/or reproductive rates by conducting a meta-analysis … Continue reading

Research Article: Implications of Habitat Loss on Seed Predation and Early Recruitment of a Keystone Palm in Anthropogenic Landscapes in the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest

Date Published: July 17, 2015 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Leiza Aparecida S. S. Soares, Deborah Faria, Felipe Vélez-Garcia, Emerson M. Vieira, Daniela C. Talora, Eliana Cazetta, Andrew Hector. Abstract: Habitat loss is the main driver of the loss of global biodiversity. Knowledge on this subject, however, is highly concentrated on species richness … Continue reading

Research Article: Conserving Biogeography: Habitat Loss and Vicariant Patterns in Endemic Squamates of the Cerrado Hotspot

Date Published: August 7, 2015 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Pietro L. H. de Mello, Ricardo B. Machado, Cristiano de C. Nogueira, Danilo Russo. Abstract: Little is known about the threat levels and impacts of habitat loss over the Cerrado Squamate fauna. The region is under severe habitat loss due to mechanized agriculture, … Continue reading

Research Article: Habitat Loss, Not Fragmentation, Drives Occurrence Patterns of Canada Lynx at the Southern Range Periphery

Date Published: November 17, 2014 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Megan L. Hornseth, Aaron A. Walpole, Lyle R. Walton, Jeff Bowman, Justina C. Ray, Marie-Josée Fortin, Dennis L. Murray, Brock Fenton. Abstract: Peripheral populations often experience more extreme environmental conditions than those in the centre of a species’ range. Such extreme conditions include … Continue reading

Research Article: Lemur species-specific metapopulation responses to habitat loss and fragmentation

Date Published: May 9, 2018 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Travis S. Steffens, Shawn M. Lehman, Elke Zimmermann. Abstract: Determining what factors affect species occurrence is vital to the study of primate biogeography. We investigated the metapopulation dynamics of a lemur community consisting of eight species (Avahi occidentalis, Propithecus coquereli, Microcebus murinus, Microcebus … Continue reading