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7.0: Prelude to Pollution, Overharvesting, Invasive Species, and Disease

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    Conservation biologists aim to preserve all the components, interactions, and processes within and between ecosystems, natural communities, species, and populations. The main obstacle to accomplishing this goal is habitat loss, while climate change will also play an increasingly important role. But let us for a moment consider widespread species and migratory populations. These species and populations typically live in different habitats and encounter different climates as they move across the landscape. We might think that tolerance for variety would make these groups robust against habitat loss and climate change. And yet, they are also declining, even in seemingly intact ecosystems and protected areas (Craigie et al., 2010; Lindsey et al., 2014). How can it be that populations apparently buffered from the two main extinction drivers are also subjected to population declines and extirpations?

    A pair of southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum, NT) in Tshukudu Private Game Reserve, adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Once nearly extinct due to uncontrolled hunting, this species rebounded to over 20,000 individuals. Now, poaching is taking a toll again, even in premier protected areas such Kruger, where at least 662 rhinos were lost in 2016. Rangers have cut off the horn of one of the rhinos in the photo in a desperate attempt to prevent poaching. Photograph by Jan Fleishmann,, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Comprehensive conservation efforts must recognize that biodiversity faces multiple threats that need to be dealt with at different scales.

    While habitat loss and climate change are the most prominent threats facing biodiversity at present, they are not alone. Nearly all human activities place additional pressures on populations, even those that already suffer from habitat loss and climate change. These additional pressures are primarily from pollution, overharvesting, persecution, invasive species, and disease (Maxwell et al., 2016). Because these threats are associated with and/or exacerbated by human activities, they can be dynamic in their nature, develop rapidly, and persist at such large scales that wildlife populations have little opportunity to adapt or move to safer areas. Moreover, these threats may interact with each other, as well as with climate change and habitat loss, so that their combined impact is greater than their individual effects. In this chapter, we explore how each of these threats impact wildlife and natural communities, and how they could push populations and species to extinction. Methods for lessening the impact of these threats are integrated into Chapters 9–15.

    7.0: Prelude to Pollution, Overharvesting, Invasive Species, and Disease is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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