Habitat Description Method

You will need to prepare a list of habitats and their areas in a standard format before you continue. You will be working through a decision table for each habitat on your site, so you will have to map it accordingly.

Most smaller properties contain only 10 to 15 habitats, maybe less. If you have around 40 to 50 habitats, mapping and recording them could take 3 to 4 hours.

If you do not have all the information for a habitat, you should be able to infer some characteristics, such as no ground shrubs in a forest stand that has a closed canopy and no light penetration to the ground, or the presence of large trees, tree cavities, and snags in an old growth forest.

Here is how:

  • Look over the habitat decision trees below for forest, grassland, human dominated, and water. Pay attention to the criteria that are used to describe each as that is how you will be mapping your area. You will describe any given habitat by choosing one description from each column. For example, you will describe one water habitat by choosing the main habitat type of water and then either flowing or still, a type, and the vegetation description. Divide your area up into habitats, the more detailed the better. Observe that you could have many habitats of the same category, such as a slow flowing river that could be made up of many different water habitats where parts have no vegetation, a part has emergent vegetation, and yet another part having submergent vegetation. These would be three separate habitats.
  • What features does each habitat contain? Choose one of the following:
    • Terrestrial habitats: coarse woody debris, snags, tree cavities or nest boxes, cliffs, caves, large trees, buildings, eroded stream banks, existing nests, rock or talus, bridges or large culverts, and old chimneys.
    • Aquatic habitats: soft bottom, ephemeral ponds, shoals or rocks, aquatic woody debris, and mud or sand flats.
  • Make a map outlining each habitat that you will describe later, number them consecutively beginning at 1 (this will be your habitat id number), measure the area of each in hectares, and measure the length of the edge in metres between each habitat. Here is a simple example with four habitat types:

Decision Trees

Main Habitat Type Moisture Type Age Canopy Shrubs
Forest (1) Wet (1)
e.g. forest swamp; at least partly flooded for part of the year.
Conifer (1)
greater than 80% conifer species.
Young (1)
less than 20 years old, small trees with exposed ground in between trees.
Closed (1)
not much light gets through to ground.
Yes (1)
shrubs present covering a major portion of the forest floor.
Moist (2)
e.g. rain forest; frequent rain keeping forest floor moist.
Mixed (2)
more than 20% each of conifer and deciduous species.
Intermediate (2)
greater than 20 to 60 years; young vigorous trees.
Intermediate (2)
light gets to about 30% of the ground at some time during the day.
No (2)
no or few shrubs, may be present in small clumps.
Mesic (3)
e.g. deciduous forest with moist forest floor mmost of the time.
Deciduous (3)
greater than 80% deciduous.
Mature (3)
trees slowing in growth, some starting to die due to crowding and fall and accumulate on forest floor.
Open (3)
light gets to almost all ground at some time during the day.
Dry (4)
e.g. tree adapted to dry conditions; frequent danger of fire; dry ground.
Old growth (4)
e.g. new growth on forest floor in gaps left by dead trees; large old trees common; dead trees decomposing on forest floor.
Sparse (4)
e.g. light gets through to almost all ground at some time during the day.

Main Habitat Type Moisture Density Height Shrubs
Grassland (2) Mesic (1)
lush, moist grassland for most of the year.
Dense (1)
very little ground visible.
Tall (1)
from knee high to over head; shades most of the ground.
Dense (1)
shrubs intermixed with grass; requiring many detours while walking.
Dry (2)
turns brown for at least half of the year.
Intermediate (2)
ground visible in most places.
Intermediate (2)
Moderate (2)
easy waalking between shrubs.
Arid (3)
turns brown for most of the year; can occur in patches of desert vegetation.
Sparse (3)
bare ground abundant between plants.
Low (3)
not much taller than mowed grass.
Low (3)
very scattered or absent.
None (4)
very little or no vegetation.

Main Habitat Type Type
Human Dominated (3) Agricultural - pasture (1)
Agriculture - cultivated (2)
residential - low density (3)
e.g. subdivision.
Residential - high density (4)
e.g. downtown, highrises.
Commercial (5)
e.g. downtown, highrises.
Agricultural - old field (6)
e.g. used to be agricultural butu abandoned to tall grass growth or weedy; slowly converting to shrubs and small trees.

Main Habitat Type Flow Type Vegetation
Water (4) Fast (1)
rapids or plentiful riffle areas.
River (1)
None (1)
e.g. sand or mud flats.
Slow (2)
sluggish movement, meandering, no or very little fast water
Stream (2)
Submergent (2)
Still (3)
impounded water with no noticeable movement except near inflows and outflows.
Deep lake or ocean (3)
usually cold, not much bottom visible.
Floating (3)
Shallow lake (4)
bottom visible over large areas.
Emergent - no or few shrubs (4)
Pond or small lake (5) Emergent - many shrubs (5)
Beaver pond (6)
dammed stream.
Marsh (7)
grassy vegetation.
Fen (8)
shrubby vegetation but with slowly flowing or standing water.
Bog (9)
wet, saturated ground with shrubs or stunted trees; acidic.