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15.2: Species-level Conservation

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    Some conservation efforts center around a single species. Often this is a charismatic species that elicits public interest, such as tigers, sea otters, or the California Condor. The specific approach depends on specific threats based by the species of focus. When California Condor population size plummeted, leaving only 23 individuals, they were relocated into a controlled environment and provided with optimal conditions for reproduction. This is called captive breeding. Individuals have since been reintroduced into the environment. One threat to the species was lead from bullets that were entering the food chain and ultimately poisoning the California Condor. Public education and providing lead-free bullets was thus another component of their conservation plan. By 2016, the population size increased to 446 individuals, with 276 of those living in the wild.

    When disease puts species at risk, vaccination may be part of the conservation plan. For example, the black-footed ferret of the Great Plains is threatened by sylvatic plague as well as habitat loss. In response, peanut buttered-flavored oral vaccines were distributed over their habitats. Conservation efforts also focused on captive breeding and reintroduction. Once thought to be extinct, there are now several hundred black-footed ferrets in captivity and similar numbers in the wild (figure \(\PageIndex{a}\)).

    A young black-footed ferret stick out its tongue. It has large black eyes, a long neck, and brown and white markings.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): A black-footed ferret kit at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado. Image by Ryan Moehring/USFWS (CC-BY)

    Protecting or restoring habitat is another component of species-level conservation. For example, the Northern Spotted Owl lives in old-growth forests. Protecting intact old-growth forests and restoring forest habitat is thus critical to their success. This is accompanied by removal of the Barred Owl, an invasive that competes with the Northern Spotted Owl. Similarly, removal of the invasive iceplant Carpobrotus edulis from California coasts, restores conditions for endangered dune vegetation (figure \(\PageIndex{b}\)-d). In other cases, habitat restoration involves promoting populations of native species that support those at risk, such as promoting vegetation that provides food and shelter for waterfowl.

    Sprawling vegetation and bare sand with low mountains in the background. 
    Figure \(\PageIndex{b}\): Vegetation at Martin Dunes in California. Iceplant is visible in the forefront. Photo by USFWS (public domain).
    A pink flower with many petals and a mat of succulent leaves. Bare sand and rocks are visible in the background.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{c}\): Carpobrotus edulis is an invasive iceplant that forms thick mats and outcompetes coastal vegetation. Image by Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR (public domain).
    A small plant with a cluster of four-petaled yellow flowers and dark leaves originating from a central stem.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{d}\): Removal of the iceplant restores habitat for endangered species, such as Menzies' wallflower. Image by Gordon Leppig & Andrea J. Pickart, FWS (public domain).

    Seemingly unimpressive species can still serve vital ecological roles. For example, the delta smelt is an important food source for larger fish species. Additionally, it serves as an indicator species because the health of its populations reflect overall ecosystem health. While the delta smelt has been a focus of species-level conservation, non-charismatic species are often overlooked. In fact, a 2007 study by Colléony and colleagues found that people more often donated to conservation efforts for species that were more similar to humans rather than choosing those that were at greatest risk of extinction. Broad approaches such as establishing protected areas and ecosystem restoration benefit charismatic and non-charismatic species alike. Additionally, broad approaches protect unidentified and species that have not been assessed.


    Colleony, Agathe, Susan Clayton, Denis Couvet, Michel Saint Jalme, and Anne-Caroline Prevot. (2017). Human preferences for species conservation: Animal charisma trumps endangered status. Biological Conservation. 206. 263-269. DOI


    Melissa Ha (CC-BY-NC)

    This page titled 15.2: Species-level Conservation is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .