By Olivier Cameron Trudel
Wildlife Biologist & Photographer
Fauna | Ecology | Understand
Reading time : 7 minutes
Photography & text by Olivier Cameron Trudel
Online May 22nd 2019
International Biodiversity Day
This photo essay by Olivier Cameron-Trudel, wildlife biologist and photographer, sends a vibrant message about the importance of biodiversity conservation well beyond national parks and protected areas. This extensive biodiversity is "essential to our survival".
The first foundations of nature conservation appeared in America in the late 19th century, with the creation of national parks and protected areas. Yellowstone in the United States is the first territory in the world to obtain this mention. Although the protection of the territories was initially based on mainly aesthetic criteria, or aimed at supporting abundant animal reserves for hunting, it was one of the first stones in the building that still had to be built... this building representing the "conservation of biodiversity", for the greater benefit of man and nature.
Biodiversity : Genbetic diversity of living species, as well as ecosystems.
Ecological connectivity :
1. Spatial connectivity: structural, physical, linking two places in space;
2.Functional connectivity that links or connects eco-landscape elements that are physically connected or not. It links them together, from the perspective of an individual, species, population or association of such entities, for all or part of their stage of development, at a given time or for a given period.
Conserving biodiversity is not only about protecting a unique species, here and there, according to our priorities and interests. It is to work to protect all species, allowing them to survive in complex, functional and resilient ecosystems. This means that not only species must be protected, but also the complex interactions between them must be preserved.
This biodiversity brings us daily, a variety in our dishes, diverse materials, and allows moments of pure happiness and spirituality in the open air. This biodiversity, Nature with a big "N", it has no price, but it has an infinite value because it is essential to our survival on earth.
“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for - the whole thing - rather than just one or two stars.”
― David Attenborough
The concept of protected areas, for the protection of geological formations and physical habitats, is relatively simple and effective. But when it comes to wildlife protection, this is not always the case.
Fauna (Wildlife) : All wild animal species living in a given geographical area or habitat.
In practice, few protected areas are large enough to maintain the populations of several indigenous animal species they support. Some animals, particularly large predators, require vital areas of such magnitude that most protected areas are not able to support a minimum viable population. Consequently, the maintenance of these species within these protected areas is also linked to their presence outside its borders, as well as to the immigration of newcomers to these territories. Not only does the arrival of new individuals in a protected area support the size of the population there, it also promotes a certain genetic mixing that is essential to the resilience of a given population to the vagaries of time.
While the space available in most protected areas is not sufficient to maintain several species in a "closed circuit", some other so-called migratory species simply cannot find the seasonal resources they need to complete their life cycle within these territories. These species, such as monarch butterflies, salmon, sea turtles, migratory birds or cetaceans, migrate and/or move over long distances. The protection of unique areas on the planet will never be sufficient for their conservation, in addition to generating a mosaic of plots isolated from each other by the human footprint. It is therefore essential to protect the different critical habitats of migratory species. And this should of course include the protection of the main migratory routes used by these species, well beyond the boundaries drawn by humans and their refuges.
And then there are the "famous" climate changes underway that will change the characteristics of some habitats, which may eventually make environments unsuitable for the survival of species that they once housed. In addition, it is quite possible that these climatic disturbances, by affecting winds and marine currents, may also modify seasonal migration routes. We must quickly review our biodiversity conservation paradigm... The populations occupying these former suitable habitats will face two choices, trying to survive by remaining in these unsuitable environments, or trying to survive by moving to new habitats, which may be more favourable. Sadly, this already applies to some wildlife populations, but also to humans....
Certainly, one priority conservation issue seems to emerge from these findings: the importance of considering habitat connectivity. The terrestrial territory is highly fragmented by our anthropogenic footprint. Ensuring a level of connection between different parcels of nature will enable the conservation of as much biodiversity as possible. Creating a few legislated parcels will not be enough to change the situation. Of course, fauna and flora are not limited to the momentary boundaries we draw on maps.
Life is anything but immutable. So to protect it, we must plan to include "movement" in our protection planning, by maintaining and developing links that allow life to continue to move and evolve.
And how is the continuity of the movement allowed? First, perhaps we could refrain from building unnecessary walls... In other words, we must avoid fragmenting natural environments. Some examples of fragmentation? That of a forest through urban development, that of a wetland complex through the development of a road or that of a watercourse through the construction of a hydroelectric dam. But the barriers are not only physical, nor are they made of concrete... A "barrier" is anything that represents a substantial obstacle to the passage of a species from one environment to another...
Now, how do we increase movement opportunities? Because in regions that are already highly developed, it is becoming necessary to work to "defragment" habitats, or rather, to improve connectivity between isolated habitat parcels. Connections between nodes, such as large protected areas, do not always need to be of high quality for wildlife. Indeed, the use of these parcels as passage environments does not necessarily require the presence of abundant food resources or shelters, but simply the absence of impassable barriers. Moreover, the functional connectivity of all animals cannot be promoted in the same way, since each species does not have the same habitat, physical capacities or behavioural specificities. That said, in order to maximize investments, it is still desirable and pragmatic to try approaches that can meet the needs of several species at a time...
As intelligent animals, we must take into account, in a more structured way, the issue of fragmentation in our development projects. Habitat connectivity must be a sine qua non acceptance criterion for any road or urban development project. By building a road, we aim to "connect" with a neighbouring city or with natural resources that we want to exploit. Collectively, therefore, we should understand and accept that the project budget must also include the cost of the facilities necessary to maintain some functional connectivity for wildlife. If it makes sense to you, it is up to us to raise our demands on the actors who orchestrate the development of society.
We could also consider stopping expanding? Urban sprawl is one of the serious threats to biodiversity conservation. We can very well be satisfied with maintaining and redeveloping what is already developed. Could we even become more dense? Certainly! A large part of the solutions lie in urban design and in the types of development and operating projects that we are willing to put forward as a community.
Who knows, maybe if our society really started to care about the connectivity of natural environments, it would help us too to reconnect with our nature and create links!
Olivier Cameron Trudel
Wildlife Biologist & Photographer
In the field, by helicopter or kayak, Olivier captures nature and its animals in its purest essence, without artifice. He constantly pursues this little moment, this sparkle in the animal's eye or in extraordinary landscapes where the human is unequivocally reminded to remember that he is part of the ecosystem.