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Land Degradation and Habitat Fragmentation: The Environmental Impacts of Industrialized Agriculture

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  • 0:06 Industrialized Agriculture
  • 1:20 Land Degradation
  • 3:30 Habitat Fragmentation
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Although we all need food to survive, the methods we use to produce that food can be problematic. In this lesson, we will explore how industrialized agriculture negatively impacts the environment and, as a result, makes the land less productive in producing crops and livestock.

Industrialized Agriculture

If you drive through states in the rural, Midwestern portion of the United States, you would find yourself surrounded by farm fields for as far as you can see. These farms are essential to our survival, because we rely on them to produce the food we eat. As the human population continues to increase, more land is being converted to support agriculture. Currently, 38% of the earth's land is used for some form of agriculture, and in the United States, over 50% of land is agricultural.

In addition to converting more land for agricultural uses, new farming methods have also been developed to produce more food for the growing population. Industrialized agriculture is the type of agriculture where large quantities of crops and livestock are produced through industrial techniques. This type of agriculture was designed to increase the amount of food produced and make it possible to sell those products on a global scale.

Although industrialized agriculture has been successful in terms of the amount of food produced, it has had some negative impacts on the environment, including land degradation and habitat fragmentation.

Land Degradation

One of the major problems associated with industrialized agriculture is the degradation of land. Land degradation is when land changes due to human use and results in a reduction in the overall quality of the environment. Industrialized agriculture can lead to land degradation in multiple ways, including changing soil quality and physical changes to the land.

Industrialized agriculture can lead to a reduction in soil quality, because the amount of nutrients available to plants decreases over time. Normally, when a plant dies in a forest, it decomposes and returns nutrients to the ground for future plants to use.

In industrialized agriculture, crops are harvested, and remaining plant parts are also removed from the land. As a result, a large amount of nutrients are removed from the land during harvest, and nutrients are not replenished, because the decomposable plant materials are also removed and not allowed to break down. A reduction in soil quality can severely degrade the land because it becomes less fertile and can therefore produce fewer or less healthy crops.

Land degradation due to industrialized agriculture can also occur in the form of physical changes to the land. Industrial farms that have large amounts of livestock can drastically change the physical layout of the land. If livestock frequently travel over the same area, they can compact the soil, which makes it harder for plants to grow and water to penetrate the ground.

Livestock can also leave land void of vegetation if too many animals are grazing in one location. This can lead to erosion, which is when soil components move from one location to another by wind or water. Erosion can also occur as a result of industrialized agriculture when plants are harvested and fields are left uncovered.

If erosion occurs in a field, it can cause serious problems, because the design of the land and amount of soil will change, and the land will most likely become very dry. These changes in the land due to erosion can make it more difficult to establish healthy crops and vegetation for livestock.

Habitat Fragmentation

Another way that industrialized agriculture has affected the environment is through habitat fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation is when an intact area of the environment is divided up into smaller patches as a result of human activity.

Industrialized agriculture causes a great deal of habitat fragmentation, because in order to create large crop fields, parts of the natural environment have to be converted. Most natural habitats, especially forests, are large connected areas, and when a part of that area is converted for agriculture, it creates smaller disconnected patches of forest.

Converting forests to agricultural land reduces the amount of land available for native animals and plants and causes additional problems for the inhabitants of the forest. The remaining forest can become overcrowded, because the species that previously inhabited the now-agricultural land will migrate to the forest that is left intact. This could lead to competition for space and food between the species and could potentially cause shifts in the population dynamics of the habitat.

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