endangered species need inspection

Why Do Endangered Species and Ecosystems Need Guaranteed Protection?

November 28, 2017 - Emily Newton

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Climate change has already made its impact known. Floods and wildfires in California, monstrous hurricanes in Florida and Texas, and insanely powerful typhoons in the Pacific Ocean are just a few examples of how the world is changing right before our eyes. While we might be preparing for the next big storm or blazing fire, it’s important to remember that we aren’t the only species these disasters affect. A number of new animals have found themselves on the endangered species list because of changes to their ecosystem.

Why are these ecosystems changing? What effect does it have on the animals that live there, and what can we do to stop these changes from continuing?

Threats to Endangered Species

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than 23,000 species are endangered at the moment. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service only recognizes somewhere between 400 and 1500 species.  These aren’t all mammals — the list also includes plants, birds, corals, and amphibians — but even this monumental list may not be accurate.  Scientists believe that it only represents a small fraction of the species that face a threat or danger of extinction.

The culprit behind this threat is human interference. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), human behavior has increased this trend toward extinction between 100 and 1000 times what it would be naturally. Interference isn’t just damaging to the animals themselves — it threatens the biodiversity of the ecosystems where these species live.

The Importance Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms — all the animals, plants, insects, and microorganisms that make up an ecosystem. Why is this variation so significant? Simply put, it creates the foundation for life in the habitat. If one species dies out, biodiversity ensures that another species can take its place to maintain the stability of the ecosystem.

One of the best recent examples of this is the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Hunting wiped out wolves from the park more than 100 years ago, and biologists reintroduced them in 1995.  The effect on the local ecosystem was staggering.

Once the wolves were reintroduced and able to establish themselves, they thrived and were not alone — herbivores started to return, and with them came new plant life.  Many of the species that had left the park because of the unbalanced ecosystem returned.

This prosperity is primarily because of the wolves.  Wolves, in this instance, are a keystone species — they have an inordinately significant impact on the ecosystem with both their presence and their absence.  Without them, large herbivores were able to breed unchecked. Eventually, these animals wiped out their own food source and had to move on. As odd as it sounds, without the wolves, even the rivers and wetlands in the area dried up.

Now, introducing wolves isn’t the perfect solution to restore crumbling ecosystems. While they may be a keystone species in Yellowstone, they would unbalance other ecosystems where they are not native. Just look at what’s happened to the Everglades. Non-native pythons are thriving in the swampy wetlands, but these apex predators are destabilizing the ecosystem because they have no natural predators. They’re free to eat, breed and grow.

The Effect on Humans

Animals aren’t the only ones affected by the destabilization of these ecosystems worldwide — it’s impacting humans, too. This isn’t the first mass extinction to hit this planet. In fact, it’s the sixth, with the last one being the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. However, it is the first mass extinction that we are both a part of and a major cause of. How does it affect us?

Loss of Food

Just look at the bees. Bee species across the globe are under significant threat, both because of human behavior — specifically, pesticides that are destroying bee hives — and because of changing climates. While human intervention has started to help restore the shrinking bee populations, it is the perfect example of what might happen if we allow this ecosystem destabilization to continue.  To put it quite frankly, if bees die out, humanity goes with them.

Without bees, we’d lose most of the fruits and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis. Strawberries, watermelon, walnuts, cucumbers, and peppers will all go extinct without bees to pollinate them, just to name a few.  It also means that coffee will become an exorbitantly expensive luxury commodity if it survives. Chocolate will die off. Even getting a hamburger will be next to impossible — bees also pollinate the alfalfa that feeds the cows that become your burger.

Worsening Disease

As plants and animals go extinct, we also lose things like potential medicines and cures that could exist in herbs we haven’t even discovered yet. We may also experience more diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus as pests like ticks and mosquitoes spread and thrive.

Widespread disease is a worst-case-scenario projection. However, if we continue to act like the planet is our trashcan, it could become our reality. Humans could potentially find themselves facing extinction right alongside the bees, white rhinos, and other endangered species.

Why Is It Important to Protect Endangered Species?

By harming the planet we harm ourselves. Protecting endangered species and their habitats is crucial. With each loss of a plant or animal, more species become threatened and our ecosystem slowly falls apart. We must do our part to protect the environment to ensure we have clean water, air, and land for future generations.

Balancing Humanity, Biodiversity, and Ecosystems

We need to stop thinking of ourselves as some elevated, civilized beings. We are animals, just like the rest of the creatures that inhabit this planet.  Just because we have opposable thumbs and smartphones doesn’t mean we’re any more important than the rest of the plants, animals, and microorganisms that call this planet home. Once we figure out how to live with the Earth instead of on it, we will finally be able to make some positive changes to protect our future.

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Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

1 Comment

  1. Oliver Spellman on May 8, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    This is a great article, I’m using it in part with a research paper.

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