What Is a Community?
What image leaps to mind when you hear the word "community"? A suburban neighbourhood lined with houses and trees? A big city filled with high-rise apartment buildings and office towers? A small fishing village? A loose cluster of farms? A remote northern settlement? Actually, there are many types of communities. But they all have one thing in common: they're places where people interact in some way.
Communities also interact with one another. Think of them as links in a chain. Each one can stand alone, but when two or more are linked together, they become part of a larger community. For example, your classroom is a small community within many bigger ones — your school, your neighbourhood, your town or city, your region, your province or territory, Canada, North America, and the world!
But wait a minute. Aren't we forgetting something? We've only talked about human communities so far. What about natural communities? Ah. Another link.
What is a natural community? Well, it's an association of organisms — plant and animal — each occupying a certain position or ecological niche, inhabiting a common environment, and interacting with one another. When we say that a plant or animal occupies a niche, we are not referring to a physical location. Rather, we are talking about the many different things that affect the species’ way of life — such as its feeding habits, relationships with other wildlife, behaviour patterns, and so on.
In describing a species' niche, we invariably refer to its habitat, or the place where it lives. Each plant or animal has four basic habitat needs: food, water, shelter, and space, all arranged just the way it likes. You can think of a natural community as all the plants and animals in a particular habitat that are bound together by food-chains and other interactions.
All communities — human or natural — are interdependent. For example, residents of Canada's North rely on shipments of food from other parts of the country. For another example, wild orchids depend on particular insects to pollinate them. Just as humans live and co-operate or compete with one another, so does wildlife. Don't forget that wildlife includes plants, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, fish, algae, fungi, and other wild organisms, as well as mammals and birds.
Conserving Canada's Diversity
Diversity refers to the rich variety of plants and animals that make up natural communities. It also refers to the different types of habitat that allow these species to exist. No matter where you live, there is a diversity of wildlife around you. It may not be obvious in a place like a big city, but it's there!
But as villages, towns, and cities expand, and as our environment is subjected to more and more stress, wildlife habitat — and eventually wildlife itself — becomes less diverse. Certain species begin to have difficulty finding enough food or water, the right type of shelter, or sufficient space. Before long, they are unable to fulfil their roles in the natural community. As their niches disappear, so do the species themselves. And so do other species that once depended on them.
This is where you come in. You can help conserve wildlife diversity by providing or improving a wide variety of habitats that will benefit as many species as possible.
Your project can be large or small — it doesn't matter! Wildlife will benefit from anything you do to improve its habitat, and so will you!
© Canadian Wildlife Federation
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