The most critical aspect of wildlife conservation is habitat management. Habitat loss presents the greatest threat to wildlife.
Five essential elements must be present to provide a viable habitat: food, water, cover, space, and arrangement.
The need for food and water is obvious.
Cover is needed not only to provide shelter from the elements and predators but also to protect animals while they are feeding, breeding, roosting, nesting, and traveling. Cover can range from thick weeds and brush to a few rocks piled together.
Space is necessary to avoid over-competition for food. Some animals also need a certain amount of territorial space for mating and nesting. When crowded, some species may develop stress-related diseases.
Arrangement refers to the placement of food, water, cover, and space in a habitat. The ideal arrangement allows animals to meet all of their needs in a small area so that they minimize the energy they use traveling from food to cover to water.
Most animals can be found where food and cover meet, particularly near a water source. This is called edge effect.
- River bottoms are ideal, offering many animals all their habitat needs along one corridor.
- Edge effects can be in the form of topographical or vegetation edges, such as the saddle of a mountain range.
- For example, quail and ptarmigan will spend much of their time where shrub and grassland or rock/gravel ridges converge.