Overview
  Table of Contents
  Introduction
  Changes to the Land
  Natural Resources Matter

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Changes to the Land

Overview : Changes to the Land


The natural landscape is essentially a continuous mosaic of natural habitats. Human land uses have consumed habitat and drastically changed the vegetation and hydrology of the landscape. In Minnesota, the native prairie in the southern and western parts of the state has been largely replaced by agriculture, and in some instances, logging has resulted in younger and less diverse northern forests. As people use the land, the natural landscape is divided into ever-smaller pieces by elements like railways, utility lines, roads, houses, and parking lots. The remaining natural areas, or fragments, are reduced in size and degraded in quality, resulting in a decline in plant and animal populations, and the disappearance of some sensitive animal species and plant communities. View a comparison of Presettlement vs. Modern Day natural communities in three counties across the state.

While many development features like roads and power lines are essentially permanent, the effects of fragmentation can be mitigated by:

  • Placing very high priority on protecting existing large tracts of habitat,
  • Restoring land and water connections between existing habitats, creating wildlife corridors, and
  • Managing conservation lands to maximize native habitat diversity and maintain critical ecosystem functions.
How does fragmentation impact the environment?
  • Fragmentation results in a dramatic increase in 'edge' habitat, which provides increased access to the more protected interior habitats by predators, including domestic animals.
  • Fragmentation creates barriers to wildlife movement, and is especially harmful to reptiles and amphibians that depend on the ability to move between their aquatic habitats and upland areas.
  • Fragmentation creates opportunities for harmful exotic plant species to invade. Many exotic species can out-compete native plant communities and often provide little or no habitat value.
  • Because it's associated with human activity, fragmentation often brings pesticides, noise, lights, and other pollutants and disturbances that can profoundly impact a species' ability to function.

These images show how urbanization fragments open space and creates barriers between the natural areas on the site.

Historical Aerial Photo (1991)
Click to Expand
Historical Aerial Photo (1991)
Recent Aerial Photo (2002)
Click to Expand
Recent Aerial Photo (2002)

Overview | Natural Resource Based Planning | Inventories & Assessments | Implementation Tools | Project Profiles | Data | Resources & Links

©2004 State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources.