Restoring Habitats

It Takes a Habitat (or Is That an Ecosystem?)

What Is a "Habitat"?

The Forest Preserve District generally uses the words "habitat" and "ecosystem" to talk about similar things.

An ecosystem (or habitat) is basically made up of

  • A plant community — a certain group of plants that grow under similar conditions
  • The group of wildlife that lives within and relies on that plant community
  • Certain soil and moisture conditions, which may be specific to that ecosystem

Although an ecosystem is made up of all of these parts, ecologists categorize them by the plants that live there: prairie, woodland or wetland.

Prairies are grasslands that contain broadleaved flowering plants, or "forbs," some shrubs and a few kinds of trees. Depending on the soil, a prairie may be further classified as a dry (usually higher land with sandy or gravely soils that drain quickly), mesic (soils that are fairly moist throughout the growing season) or wet (soils that hold a lot of water).

Woodlands primarily contain trees and are put into general subcategories depending on the spacing between the trees. These categories can range from "forest" — a dense woodland with only shade-tolerant plants below — to "savanna" — an area with sparse trees growing among grasses and forbs typically associated with prairies. 

Wetlands are areas covered for at least part of the year with shallow water. Some are easy to identify because they have water year-round, but others may only appear in spring or early summer as "ephemeral," or short-lived, ponds. Wetlands, even ephemeral ones, provide irreplaceable breeding grounds and homes for wildlife from dragonflies, frogs and salamanders to marsh birds and muskrats


Habitat Restoration

When the Forest Preserve District talks about a “habitat restoration” project, it’s usually referring to efforts to improve the plant community within a particular ecosystem. 

Those efforts, which can take years, include removing invasive plants and then planting or seeding the area with native ones. In these cases, the goal is to create plant communities that can support the plants and wildlife that are normally associated with that particular ecosystem.