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Diversity - The Spice of Life

Posted Dec. 1, 2001

DIVERSITY The American Heritage dictionary defines diversity as, "being made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements," or simply, "variety." When wildlife specialists talk about diversity, we generally refer to one of two things: wildlife species diversity, that is, the number of different kinds of wildlife found in a particular area; or diversity as it pertains to wildlife habitat. In this article, I will be addressing the latter. Habitat diversity is extremely important to species such as white-tailed deer. Some wildlife species (e.g., prairie chickens, woodpeckers) have more narrow habitat requirements than deer, but still respond favorably to diversity within their required habitats. Persons interested in wildlife and wildlife management need to be aware of the importance of diversity to many wildlife species and be able to recognize it (or the lack thereof) when they see it.

Habitat diversity is made up of several components. Perhaps the most easily recognized component of habitat diversity is vegetative diversity. Vegetative diversity refers to the number of different species of vegetation present. The greater the number of species, the greater the vegetative diversity. Diverse plant communities increase the likelihood that some of the plants that serve as required food and cover species for a particular wildlife species are present. Within the Noble Research Institute Wildlife Unit, we have documented over 500 species of plants on just under 3,000 acres. I consider this to be a good example of an area with a very diverse plant community. Potentials for vegetative diversity throughout our service area may vary somewhat, but the point is, if your vegetative diversity approaches this magnitude, you have a lot of plant diversity and as Martha Stewart says, "that's a good thing."

The diversity of habitat types is also an important component. A habitat type refers to vegetative characteristics of an area as they are influenced by soil, other environmental factors and land use practices. Descriptions of habitat types can be as fine or coarse as necessary. A major consideration for delineating or breaking out habitat types usually centers around whether a specific type is in the uplands or bottomlands (riparian areas). Within each of these broad categories, numerous other habitat types can be delineatedeach having its own unique characteristics and contributing to, or detracting from, overall habitat quality in its own way. For example, there are wooded bottomlands, wooded uplands, open bottomlands and open uplands. Within the wooded category, there are mature wooded areas and areas that are young single-aged stands of regrowth timber. In both of these wooded types, there may be areas with an abundant understory and areas with very little understory present. Open area classifications include native herbaceous vegetation, introduced warm-season grass monocultures, cropland, old fields, etc. Land use practices such as grazing management, prescribed burning and mowing also affect habitat type. In general, having a variety of habitat types is desirable for many wildlife species.

In addition to vegetative diversity and habitat type diversity, the distribution of habitat types is also important. Numerous habitat types creating a landscape mosaic are usually desirable. Such a mosaic generally creates more usable habitat than a few large, blocky habitat types coming together with well defined boundaries.

If you are interested in wildlife, habitat diversity is an important concept. Knowledge of plants, the land and land use practices, as well as some good aerial photographs, aid in assessing diversity on any given piece of property. An abundance of well-distributed habitat types with a lot of vegetative diversity improves the chances that all of the habitat requirements for a particular species are met. The old adage, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket," certainly applies to wildlife habitat.