Biodiversity Threats, Management, and Conclusion.

by sgril1 on April 17, 2015 - 7:15pm

Threats: Human presence is closely correlated to increasing extinction rates. Exploitation, habitat destruction, climate change, disease, and invasive introductions are the major effects of anthropogenic interference that are driving the sixth extinction.  Through my case study of four endangered mammals, the black-footed ferret, golden tamarin monkey, Tasmanian devil, and saiga antelope, I was exposed to specific examples of the above which led me to further my understanding of threats to global biodiversity loss.

The biggest threats to biodiversity are exploitation and habitat destruction.  Exploitation comes in the form of hunting, fishing, poaching, and illegal trade, among others. The artificial selective pressure placed on species is driving the extinction of both unfit and fit individuals, diminishing population sizes and eradicating species.  Habitat destruction consists of land use change, degradation, or fragmentation. As human populations increase and expand, development, pollution, urbanization, and agricultural sprawl threaten numerous habitats in varying ecosystems. These forms of habitat loss strain species by increasing the competition of vital resources, in terms of habitat, food, and mate availability, thereby limiting species population size. Additionally, direct and indirect effects of climate change shift species ranges by altering abiotic conditions of local habitats, perpetuating the effects of exploitation and habitat destruction.

Disease and invasive competition also rank among the major drivers of biodiversity loss. Active transport and indirect facilitation of disease and invasives will degrade, change, and displace native habitats and species.  Disease can decimate populations by increasing mortality rates, and invasives prey, compete, and alter food chains and trophic dynamics.  Both of these stressors add on to natural checks and balances of ecosystems, along with exploitation and habitat destruction.

The life history of endangered species affects their chance of recovery.  There are problems with reproductive success in species unable to reproduce due to shifts in demographic patterns of reproductively viable individuals, decreased mate availability, and long gestation periods. On the other hand, certain species are able to reproduce in captivity, facilitating conservation program by rapidly increasing population numbers.

All of the above threats lead to smaller populations, which face the problem of inbreeding. The detrimental effects of decreased genetic diversity can lead to fatal mutations or bottleneck populations with limited variability in their response to environmental stressors.  This decreases the chance of survival in such populations. However, captive breeding and reintroduction programs aim to manage the genetic diversity of populations to maximize gene swapping.  Captive breeding programs also create insurance populations of species isolated from the threats faced in the wild. This allows for a safety net population in case the wild one is severely diminished. This method is widely used and implemented in conservation efforts.

Management: Extensive research and adaptive management are pivotal for the survival of endangered species.  Species with promising management strategies have been heavily investigated in terms of life history, threats, and habitat.  Such knowledge provides conservationists with the tools to create efforts that accommodated each species individually. Research accumulates information of what works and what does not, and changes to management based on research lead to improvements in conservation efforts. 

Monetary resources also play an important role in conservation. Species backed by funding respond best to conservation efforts. Those unfortunate to inhabit regions where monetary resources are not as available for conservation actions demonstrate more little success in improving conditions.  On a similar note, orchestrated cooperation among various organizations aid in conservation efforts, as funding, research, and outreach is better.

Conclusion: It is of utmost importance for us to develop quick and effective ways to protect species from extinction. If we fail to conserve the species facing extinction now, we are paving the way for easier and faster depletions in the future. We will live in a domesticated world lacking wild biodiversity, and in the words of poet and ecologist Gary Snyder, “if the human race…were to survive at the expense of many plant and animal species, it would be no victory.”


McCarthy MA, CJ Thompson, ST Garnett. 2008. Optimal investment in conservation of species. Journal of Applied Ecology 45: 1428-1435.

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