Why Endangered Animals are Important to the Ecosystem
Why are Endangered Animals important to the Ecosystem?
Why do Endangered Animals matter?
Should it matter to humans that other life forms are disappearing?
Many think so. Human populations depend on plants and animals for much of their food, medicines, clothing and shelter. Perhaps even more important, is the fact that intact ecosystems perform many vital functions, like:
Purifying the air;
Filtering harmful substances out of water;
Turning decayed matter into nutrients;
There is no available data regarding how many species can be eliminated from an ecosystem, before the very functioning of that ecosystem starts to deteriorate.
However, the converse applies in that an ecosystem with more species will be more stable, than one which has lost some of its participants. For example, research has show that grassland plots with a greater number of plant species are better able to withstand drought, than one with fewer species diversity. This stability may well be important in the future, as changes in precipitation brought about by global warming, causes stress to the ecosystem.
Some species are particularly important to the health of an ecosystem. These components are known as 'keystone species', and they act in the same way as a centre stone in an arch, they bind all the component parts and their removal causes the demise of the whole structure.
A classic example of the consequences of removing a keystone species occurred when, fur hunters eliminated sea otters from some Pacific kelp beds. The connection was that otters eat sea urchins, which in turn eat kelp. The net effect of the disappearance of its major predator, sea urchin populations exploded and consumed most of the kelp. Fish and other animals associated with the kelp gradually disappeared.
Many cultures around the globe value animals for reasons other than maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Animals play a prominent role in religions and belief systems of many cultures. Many people simply value animal species for the enjoyment and intrigue they offer. Others believe that humans have a moral obligation to live in harmony with other life forms on the planet.
Whatever the reasons, most people agree that it is vital to prevent various animal species from extinction. Whilst there is no clear consensus as to how to do this, especially when the needs of humanity conflicts with those of another species, it is generally of rising concern.
It is fairly recent that worldwide concern has begun to grow about the decline of wildlife, and in particular endangered animal species. Wildlife legislation were originally passed to control the exploitation of animals which were being hunted. For example, the international regulation of whaling started after hunting of whales, had depleted many whale populations worldwide.
Even whalers were concerned that soon no more whales would be left and their livelihood would disappear seemingly overnight. The United States passed the first wildlife laws regulating the hunting of game animals to preserve large scale population to sufficient levels, to allow for continued hunting. Now public concern has expanded to include animals that have little or no apparent economic value, like songbirds, and those we 'value' for food or other uses.
Why We Must Protect Endangered Animals
Sociopolitical actions undertaken to preserve endangered species and their natural habitats often conflict with human economic interests. In fact, efforts to protect endangered animal species usually require an economic sacrifice from the very businesses or governments that threatened the plant, animal or particular ecosystem in the first place.
It is therefore necessary to define endangered animal species in terms of their aesthetic, practical and economic value to humanity. Preservation of endangered species is important to humanity for a number of reasons.
Here are a few reasons why endangered animals are important to the ecosystem: -
1. Firstly, if a species becomes extinct, it is game over as it has gone forever. There is no 'Walking with Dinosaurs' or 'Jurassic Park', we can never bring dinosaurs back fully even though CGI or cinematography tricks, has afforded us insight into their anatomy. Maybe you remember the famous Theodore Roosevelt statement:
"When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished."
Any use or potential use that species may have had in the future is lost as well. Do bear in mind that with every day science and technology is evolving, and scientists are making advances in terms of how better to use the resources we are gifted with, and equally discovering unique properties of these resources. Diversity is fascinating, and so it seems Mr Roosevelt was right to consider it a tragedy to lose it.
2. Maintaining biodiversity allows us to maintain genetic reservoirs fully stocked to make our crops better. It is true that artificial selection allows us to find 'local optima' in crop yields and quality, but this quality yield naturally tapers off in time unless we introduce new sorts of variations.
Sometimes, wild populations related to certain crops of food have desirable traits, like an innate resistance to cold. The teosinte (an ancient grass producing a grain similar in some respects to maize or corn. This type of grass is indigenous to Mesoamerica and unlike maize is not dependent on humans for its survival.
The teosinte species (Zea dip loper Ennis), which is related to corn, is both perennial and resistant to several viruses unlike other types of corn. This was found locate din solely 900 acres of a reserve in Mexico, and offers interbreeding opportunities to strengthen the immunity of other corn varieties. However, it would most likely be extinct now, had a reserve not been incorporated around this species.
3. Many medicines and new products in common use are developed from plants and organisms. This is because species often confront the same problems as we di as humanity, making evolution a fantastic engineer!
Thus plants like the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) which produces taxane diterpenoid paclitaxel ended up as a trademarked chemotherapy drug Taxol, after the drug paclitaxel has been isolated. However, the crude product may also have had many applications as a cancer-fighting medication.
The Pacific Yew is a near-threatened species, according to the IUCN ('International Union for the Conservation of Nature'). Countless other medicines have been and can be developed from plant products, but many become extinct before we can ever discover this.
Another example is the Neem Tree (or 'Azadirachta indica') from India. The component parts of the tree are widely used in Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani medicine, to treat many conditions. It is also widely used in its various forms throughout industry and culture of Indian people. Some examples of how neem is used, are for treating skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, plus cleansing the blood and liver. However, there is currently insufficient research into these potential uses, and neem can be harmful in certain circumstances.
4. We make other products from natural resources. Even 'humble' seaweeds have multiple uses in everyday life, like within the production of plastics, polishes, paints, deodorants, detergents, dyes, fire-extinguishing foams, lubricants, meat preservatives and chicken feed, to name a few amongst the hundreds of product uses.
5. Many plants and animals which become extinct due to wholesale destruction of their habitat, are in fact edible and could be sustainably harvested. We are indeed missing a huge opportunity to create a varied, colourful and interesting diet for humanity!
Indeed, we utilise operate to a system where a handful of plants account for around 80% of our crops. Indeed, communities in regions like the Amazon Basin struggle and fight an uphill battle to produce traditional crops in the nutrient-poor region. Whereas their effort may prove more fruitful, excuse the pun, to produce more native pants at higher yield, given they thrive in these environments.
6. Another concern is that most endangered species and animals are found in developing nations. This means that in denying, or perhaps not addressing worldwide extinction, that we are effectively denying these countries biological wealth. Equally, since many forests are harvested for demands of the developed world for certain products, this may be construed by some as economic neo-imperialism.
7. Areas which have less biodiversity tend also to have lower primary productivity. Most biologists have concerns that there is a causal link between the two. This is due to the fact that extinction is mostly likely to occur in specialized species, that is to say they are more efficient at their trade. However, species within a niche are not so efficient and this may account for their demise. Ecosystems are complex networks which usually maintain some sort of homeostasis, so removing some species will likely cause an imbalance. This would equally make our own existence somewhat tenuously precarious too.
8. Biological research cannot be conducted unless be can access biological diversity. Ecologist rely on the ability to study specific ecosystems as a means of understanding general characteristics of ecosystems. This work is hampered if this diversity has been reduced by the impact of man.
9. Life has been in existence for much longer than humanity, and we must respect our environment. It is vital to leave a well-maintained planet for future generations, or we could be masters of the demise of humanity itself.
10. One chilling reason for the need for action is the sheer rate that endangered species is growing, and this shows that humanity and the way we live is impacting these species. The extinction rate has swelled a hundredfold over the last century. This may be a subtle justification for saving endangered animals, as they may provide an indication of the threats to humanity, even though we may indeed be blind to this possibility currently.
There is no accurate estimate of the number of endangered species, especially as we are still discovering this vast planet. A thorough census of all of the earth's smallest and yet most numerous inhabitants - insects, marine microorganisms and plants has yet to be conducted.
Furthermore, ecologists believe that a large percentage of the Earth's un-catalogued biodiversity lies in the equatorial rainforests. However, because human development is rapidly converting the tropical forest habitat into agricultural land and settlements, this has the effect of making these often unnamed species of small invertebrates and tropical plants categorically endangered. There are probably several million endangered species, most of which are invertebrates living in tropical forests.
What are the Conclusions?
Well, humanity has thus far been ignorant of the other occupants of tis planet, and equally the impact of its actions on the fragile ecosystem in which we now live. Financial gain has been placed before the constituents parts which have no voice, or immediate gain to our own existence.
However, consider simply that we have been provided completely free of charge an ecosystem with resources to keep the human race in existence for many years past and future years to come. We forget that with each action, and indeed inaction sometimes, humanity leaves behind an invisible footprint of cause and effect more far-reaching sometimes that utter pestilence. It is clear that we must review the ways in which we interact with the planet and what value we place on endangered species. We must find creative innovative ways to do to manage our existence, or we will ultimately be the masters of our own demise.
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