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By Allan Randalleducation writer, Derbyshire

A community of animals and plants is the product of its natural habitat. The community will only survive if the environmental conditions are right

A habitat is any place where animals and plants are found. It provides its inhabitants with the essential conditions for life including shelter, food and water. Some habitats cover large areas such as woodland, seashore, ponds, downland or heath. These areas are made up of mini habitats – for instance individual trees, hedges, grassy areas and flowerbeds – and microhabitats such as puddles, leaves and stones.

A key concept that children learn in science at Key Stage 2 is that animals, plants and habitats are interdependent and that living organisms can be affected by changes to their natural environment. With current concerns about the ozone layer, global warming, deforestation and so on, the effect of environmental change on animal and plant life is an increasingly important issue.

Scientists are monitoring the timing of natural and seasonal events to identify any changing patterns that may be affecting animal and plant life. Seasonal changes include variations in precipitation, temperature and the duration of sunlight. In 1999 almost all recorded autumnal events took place several days later than in previous years – including leaf fall and the departure of migrating birds. Changes such as these can interfere with complex and finely-balanced food chains and life cycles and may ultimately destroy precious ecosystems.

All animals and plants within a habitat are part of an often complex food chain or food web. Green plants, which harness the sun’s energy, are the source of all of the energy used by animals and are known as the producers in our food chain. Many animals, from aphids to rabbits, feed on green plants; these animals are known as primary consumers. In turn, primary consumers are preyed upon by secondary consumers such as ladybirds and foxes.

The transfer of energy through the food chain from producers to secondary consumers is costly and it takes many producers to support a secondary consumer. In a small woodland environment, it takes millions of insects to support a bird population of several hundred who in turn support just one or two owls or a kestrel.

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