A habitat is the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally lives. It’s hard to talk about plants and animals without mentioning their habitat — prairies, streams, roadsides, woodlands, or somewhere else.

Missouri has a rich diversity of habitats and of organisms that live in them. Some species are confined to one particular kind of habitat and cannot survive elsewhere. Others are generalists that can live in a wide range of habitats.

Conservation of plants and animals usually amounts to caring for their habitats. For species ranging from Mead’s milkweed to pondberry, and prairie-chickens to paddlefish, survival depends on humans protecting complete habitat systems, and all their components.

Habitat types are created by many interwoven factors, including the underlying rocks and soils (affecting nutrients, moisture, pH, and so on), hydrology (amount and type of water flow), climate (precipitation, temperature, and other characteristics of weather), and the overall biological community formed by dominant plants (grasses in grasslands, trees in forests, for example).

Learning about habitats is critical for understanding plants and animals, but it also helps us understand the broader picture of our state’s natural resources — making us better stewards of the earth.