Whether you’re living out in the vast acreage of line and concession country, or even if you’re surrounded by neighbours somewhere in an urban area, you’ve got microhabitats.
Don’t go running to the doctor. Microhabitats are just smaller versions or categories of habitats for local wildlife. The word “habitat” is based on where a living thing habituates or exists based on its preferred environmental criteria, and we typically imagine them as forests, meadows, or freshwater lakes. Shrinking the scale down to both a conversational and scientific perspective, a microhabitat is a much smaller area that provides unique enough characteristics to declare it a functioning habitat.
For example, the ditch in front of your house is a microhabitat. Especially if it periodically or permanently has water in it. The unkempt vegetation provides scores of opportunities for local insects, rodents, and amphibians to coexist peacefully. Only in biology can you say that there was a beautiful community living in the ditch.
Perhaps the ditch has a pipe or culvert passing through. Just the other day, while fishing with my dad, we watched a racoon climb in and out of a metal pipe sticking out into the river. Although it is a blatant human artifact, it still serves as microhabitat for the racoon, spiders, and even baby foxes (called kits) that might feel safe inside it.
Your gardens are microhabitats. In some cases, they may be one of the few shady refuges and hideouts for toads, and song birds which forage under the canopy of the plants. Of course, there are the countless pollinators buzzing around the flower heads, which is likely happening as you read this article.
You know that area along the house or the shed where the leaves and grass have blown in and just sat there for a while? That is now an effective microhabitat. In the direct, toasty sunlight of spring and summer, it can be a couple of degrees cooler under that mat of vegetation. Millipedes, worms, and other important rototillers of nature hang out underneath there. Queen wasps and hornets will wrap themselves in such leafy debris to survive the entire winter. Don’t be scared — you can consider it a lifetime find if you’re lucky to see a big fat queen yellow jacket, sleeping coiled up in its own leaf burrito. You could almost even say it’s kind of cute.
Suppose you have a favourite tree on your property, or perhaps an amicable local specimen you always enjoy walking by. Next time you really look at it, see how many microhabitat features you can count on that one tree alone.
Are there holes in this tree? An endless list of birds, mammals and bugs depend on such spots for sheltering, reproduction, and hunting for food. Do the tree roots stick out, and perhaps have a collection of moss and weeds at the base of it? That little square foot of area is where the sun doesn’t shine and the lawnmower doesn’t reach. The result is a microhabitat that serves as a day stopover for many small terrestrial animals.
If you have an area of land on your property which floods out every spring, and it attracts western chorus frogs, dragonflies, and other lovers of the temporary pool, you could celebrate that you have a wetland microhabitat in that one spot alone. Looking at the bigger picture, maybe one corner of a larger pond has fallen branches and logs in it. This is where turtles may bask to their sun on the throne, and where frogs can warm up with the ability to dip away quickly. Logs are classic microhabitats no matter where you find them.
Like a fully functioning car or an employer with hundreds of employees, things are only going to run smoothly if all the smaller parts are in working order. When we protect and preserve microhabitats, they contribute to the overstability of large scale ecosystems. Now, we’re back to talking about the big lakes, forests, and wetlands around here, the very same natural features which contribute enormous benefits to our water, soil, and air quality.
Whether you manage 100 acres, one acre, or a backyard garden patch, you have the opportunity to protect and enjoy the wonders of microhabitats right here in NOTL.