Conservation biology is the management of Earth's ecosystems with the aim of protecting species, their communities, and ecosystems from escalated extinction rates and the destruction and degradation of their habitats. This field focuses on both evaluating past, current, and future trends and creating conservation action plans to reverse trends leading to extinction and destroyed habitats. More specifically, procedures have been put in place to protect threatened species, design habitat preserves, creating breeding programs, and reconciling conservation concerns with practical human needs.
As conservation biology needs to pull from so many fields, it is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on physical, life, and social sciences, as well as natural resource management procedures. The field seeks to integrate social science policy with theories from the fields of ecology, demography, taxonomy, and genetics. The principles underlying each of these disciplines have direct implications for the management of species and ecosystems, captive breeding and reintroduction, genetic analyses, and habitat restoration. Social science disciplines not only help with putting policies in place to legally protect species and habitats but also help fund conservation actions. Conservation action plans help direct research, monitoring, and education programs that engage concerns at both local and global scales.
The goal of this unit is to overview the essential conservation biology topics as we head into an uncertain future.
Rachel Schleiger (CC-BY-NC)
- 16.1: Introduction to Biodiversity
- Scientists generally accept that the term biodiversity describes the number and kinds of species in a location or on the planet. Species can be difficult to define, but most biologists still feel comfortable with the concept and are able to identify and count eukaryotic species in most contexts. Biologists have also identified alternate measures of biodiversity, some of which are important for planning how to preserve biodiversity.
- 16.2: Measures of Biodiversity Loss
- A common means of assessing biodiversity loss involves classifying species based on extinction risk. The Red List includes nine such categories. The species at greatest risk of extinction are called critically endangered, followed by endangered, vulnerable, and near threatened species. Biodiversity can also be gauged at the ecosystem level, both in terms of area and ecosystem diversity.
- 16.3: Threats to Biodiversity
- The core threat to biodiversity on the planet, and therefore a threat to human welfare, is the combination of human population growth and resource exploitation. The human population requires resources to survive and grow, and those resources are being removed unsustainably from the environment. The three greatest proximate threats to biodiversity are habitat loss, overharvesting, and introduction of exotic species.
- 16.4: Importance of Biodiversity
- Biodiversity exists at multiple levels of organization, and is measured in different ways depending on the goals of those taking the measurements. These include numbers of species, genetic diversity, chemical diversity, and ecosystem diversity. The number of described species is estimated to be 1.5 million with about 17,000 new species being described each year. Estimates for the total number of eukaryotic species on Earth vary but are on the order of 10 million.
- 16.5: Preserving Biodiversity
- Preserving biodiversity is an extraordinary challenge that must be met by greater understanding of biodiversity itself, changes in human behavior and beliefs, and various preservation strategies.
Thumbnail image - "Environmental protection" is in the Public Domain