What is Conservation Biology?
Conservation biology is a discipline that focuses on protecting and restoring the Earth’s biodiversity. It is a mission or crisis oriented science where quick action is required and failure can have devastating effects.
Conservation biologists are concerned with understanding how life is distributed on the planet, what threats exist to life, and what can be done to eliminate the threats and restore the health and diversity of an ecosystem. Identifying and supporting endangered species and preventing an accelerated rate of extinction are important tasks of conservation biologists.
Biodiversity refers to the diversity of life in an area. Biodiversity is not just about species. The term also includes genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity. There are an estimated 10 million species on earth (excluding bacteria), but only about 2 million have been discovered and given scientific names.
Biodiversity is important because an increase in species extinction can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems. This will have a negative impact on people’s well-being and increase the costs of maintaining food production, clean water and air, and human health.
Biodiversity Hot Spots
Because species are not evenly distributed around the world, there are multiple locations with many different species and / or species not found anywhere else on the planet (these are known as endemic species).
If a geographic area has at least 1,500 endemic vascular plants and no more than 30% of its original vegetation, it is considered a biodiversity hot spot. Currently, 35 regions have been identified as hot spots.
Together they make up only 2.3% of the earth’s surface, but they are home to more than 50% of the world’s endemic plant species and nearly 43% of the endemic species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Most tropical regions are hotspots due to the variety of species in the rainforests and coral reefs. The Amazon Basin, Madagascar, the Caribbean Islands, West Indies, Southeast Asia and Central America are some of the hot spots of tropical biodiversity.
Some non-tropical hot spots are New Zealand, Western Australia, South Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, Central China, Central Chile, and Eastern Europe. Hotspots found in the United States include the Pacific Coast, California, and Hawaii.
Major Threats to Biodiversity
There are several current threats to biodiversity, and all of them are due to the actions of humans. The major ones are:
- Climate Change
- Habitat Destruction
- Invasive Species
The Endangered Species Act was passed by the US Congress in 1973 and is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It covers all plants and animals, except insects considered pests. Under the Act, species are categorized as threatened or endangered.
A SPECIES IS “LIKELY TO BECOME ENDANGERED WITHIN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.”
A SPECIES IS “IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION THROUGHOUT ALL OR A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF ITS RANGE.”
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the most critically endangered wildlife species are:
- Amur Leopard
- Black Rhino
- Bornean Orangutan
- Cross River Gorilla
- Eastern Lowland Gorilla
- Hawksbill Turtle
- Javan Rhino
- Malayan Tiger
- Mountain Gorilla
- Saola (forest-dwelling bovine)
- South China Tiger
- Sumatran Elephant
- Sumatran Orangutan
- Sumatran Rhino
- Sumatran Tiger
- Vaquita (a porpoise)
- Western Lowland Gorilla
- Yangtze Finless Porpoise