These are actually very good questions. We hear often about species that are threatened or on the brink of extinction. This status may be attributable to the loss of their habitat, the introduction of a species that has outcompeted or preyed upon them, or disease. Regardless, the population of the species in a specific area, at times the entire range, has declined to such a low number that if efforts are not employed, the species may be lost from the world.
The first step in trying to save a species is to determine the status of the population in question and determine how widespread the declining numbers are. This often is very difficult. In general little information is known about the original and current population sizes of most species. This is very much the case in remote areas, such as the tropical regions or areas of extreme conditions like the ocean or the areas of permafrost. This lack of information is even evident in the United States where much research is conducted by universities, colleges, government agencies, and private naturalists or companies. Furthermore, research that has been done is typically more common for charismatic species, such as adorable mammals, beautiful birds, or keystone species. Research is very much lacking for critters like spiders, snakes, insects, worms, etc. Even within groups that people tend to like, like birds and mammals, many species have been neglected.
In order to determine the population size a study must be conducted. This may be done by students, university professors, or government agencies. Such studies can be expensive and are time consuming. They require people to spend time in the field looking for the plants or animals and then to analyze the data and write reports. For elusive or wide-ranging species it may be necessary to purchase and employ equipment like radio-tracking devices. For hard to find species, it requires much time, often in trying physical and environmental conditions.
If it can be proven that the species is truly in danger, it can be listed at a state or federal level of protection. This is a process that involves legislation and it is often difficult for a species to become observed by the state or federal government. If the species resides in more than one political country, one may work quicker to bring protection than the other.
Once the species is officially listed as threatened or endangered, then efforts must be made to protect it. This may require more research to determine what the cause of the decline is and how the factor is actually affecting the species in question. If habitat destruction is an issue then habitat also must be protected. If the species is on public or protected land, this is a little easier. Regulations can be passed and education programs for workers and visitors can be instituted. If the species is on private land owned by the general public, then public hearings must be held and education instituted. The idea of protecting a species, especially if it is one that is not readily desired may be very difficult. The effort may be met with opposition and laws may need to be passed.
Research and monitoring must continue regularly to determine the constant status of the population in question. If, in time, the species begins to recover, it can be proposed to delist it from the regional or federal endangered species list. This involves a proposal of how to maintain the species and evidence that the original cause for decline has been resolved or at least significantly reduced. If the species is delisted it will continue to be monitored for a set period of time, usually five years, during which time it can be relisted if the population again declines.
The above description is the common process for a species in the United States. Obviously, underdeveloped countries or countries at war have other pressing issues and may have little time or resources to protect their flora and fauna. Clearly, the entire process involves a lot of people and money. You may wonder if it is worth it for every species. However, how can one choose which species to help and which to let go extinct? Ugly or frightening species are equally as important in the ecosystem as the cute and cuddly ones. Furthermore, if humans were even partially response for the decline of the species, it is our obligation to try to help that species.
Efforts must be made to continue to study the natural world so we can learn as much as possible. This will help monitoring and conservation efforts and facilitate quick action to save suddenly decline species. It is important to protect all species to preserve the balance of the ecosystem. As humans we are in the unique position to make positive differences as stewards of the planet.
Photographs taken by Julie M. Ray
I’m going to continue from Natricine’s post and go further into the balance of the ecosystem, in other words… why is it worth it?
Ecosystems are delicate and very much intertwined, the loss of one organism can drastically affect other organisms, even ones which may seem to be in no way connected. One can part of this connection from looking at a food web:
At the bottom is the sun, which plants need to survive, in this case it’s the bladderwort and the butterfly orchid. These feed the mosquito (only the female mosquito drinks blood, and while very few people enjoy them they are important pollinators), grass carp, and the eastern mud turtle. These three can be classified as grazers, and two of which are prey for leopard frogs, raccoons and herons, along with the apex predator. The apex is at the top of the food chain, he’s the American alligator and he preys on the frog, raccoon, heron, carp, and turtle.
Now, lets go off this food web; imagine if the bladderwort were to be extinct. The carp and the turtle would lose an important food source and would drop in numbers until it can adapt to another food source. The heron and the alligator would feel the affects of this, they’ll populations will drop because there is less food, and the alligator more severely because now three food sources are diminished. This alligator population could lead to the raccoon population increasing, which would lead to the frog population decreasing, and would lead to the mosquito population increasing… all because the bladderwort became extinct.
The apex predator is VERY important to the rest of the food chain; take for example the wolf being removed from the Yellowstone forest. My biology teacher recited that once the wolf was removed, the moose population went up because their main predator was no longer controlling the population. There was a certain tree, I cannot remember the name, that they loved to eat as saplings. They kept eating the saplings so this tree became very scarce, and it was also an important tree to the beavers. Because they were lacking their trees, they left the park in search of a new home, and because they weren’t tending to their dams they broke and large pools were lost, which in turn affected more species.
So yes, saving species is definitely worth it considering it’s loss can affect the entire ecosystem it lives in.
Because ecosystems are so fragile and every life form is so intricately linked; if one species fail to thrive, many others would be right behind them. Eventually human life would dwindle because of the loss of other organisms. So if we don’t do anything about saving other species, we will directly cause our own extinction. Regardless of the time and funds it takes for conservation programs, it is very necessary for the planet that we cherish every life form and use of best science to preserve their lives.
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