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14.1: Introduction to Conserving Ecosystems

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    Rising 500 m above the Sahelian plains of Mali, the sandstone cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment are home to the Dogon people, whose unique homes are carved into the cliff’s walls. The Escarpment is a World Heritage Site, known for its outstanding cultural and natural value. However, both nature and humans are suffering from environmental degradation due to climate change and unsustainable land use. Photograph by Timm Guenther,, CC BY-SA 3.0.

    Habitat loss (and its associated degradation) is currently the most important threat facing the world's biodiversity today. When an ecosystem is destroyed or degraded, its ability to sustain wildlife is compromised, and the individuals that depend on that ecosystem for survival either need to adapt or move elsewhere, or they will die. Conversely, preventing ecosystem degradation and destruction is one of the single most important actions we can take to protect biodiversity. In the process, we also improve our own well-being, given that natural ecosystems are our first line of defence against natural disasters, and provide us with food, clean water, and other ecosystem services.

    Figure 14.1 Habitat loss and degradation, much of which are driven by agriculture, are the most important threats, followed by overharvesting, invasive species and disease, and pollution. Groups of species often face similar threats: mammals and birds are more likely to be threatened by habitat loss, while fish and molluscs are more likely to be threatened by pollution. Percentages add up to more than 100% because many species face multiple threats. The influence of climate change is under-estimated because its impact on most species still need to be assessed. Source: IUCN, 2019, CC BY 4.0.

    Broadly speaking, ecosystem conservation involves three different activities: (1) monitoring ecosystems, (2) maintaining ecosystems, and (3) restoring damaged ecosystems. While many books have been written on each of these three activities, the broad overview this chapter provides will hopefully enable readers to gain a basic understanding of the tools and methods used in ecosystem conservation.

    14.1: Introduction to Conserving Ecosystems is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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