Chinas Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam project ever, has been seen by ecologists as an environmental disaster in the making. With construction scheduled to be completed later this year, little can be done to stop it, but some Chinese and American ecologists point out that the dark cloud of the environmental consequences does have a silver lining – an unprecedented opportunity to do environmental science.
In an article forthcoming in the May 23 issue of Science, Arizona State University landscape ecologist Jianguo Wu and co-authors Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Zongqiang Xie and Xianming Gao, all from the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, argue that the project represents an opportunity to conduct arguably the largest and most complete experiment ever run on the effects of habitat fragmentation, an ecological condition that affects environments across the globe through the process of ongoing human development.
Habitat fragmentation occurs when human development or some other force eliminates large areas continuous natural habitat, leaving habitat "islands" where remaining species of plants and animals are left in a limited space, isolated from other similar communities and habitats. Examples of the condition are wild spaces (parks or undeveloped lots) that are surrounded by urban development, remnant patches of wilderness that are left when a forest is cleared for farming, or elevated terrestrial habitats that suddenly become scattered islands when a landscape is flooded. While some plant and animal species initially remain on the habitat fragments, the long-term stability of the isolated ecosystems is in question.
James Hathaway | EurekAlert!
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