When discussing the causes of endangerment, it is important to understand that individual species are not the only factors involved in this dilemma. Endangerment is a broad issue, one that involves the habitats and environments where species live and interact with one another. Although some measures are being taken to help specific cases of endangerment, the universal problem cannot be solved until humans protect the natural environments where endangered species dwell.
There are many reasons why a particular species may become endangered. Although these factors can be analyzed and grouped, there are many causes that appear repeatedly. Below are several factors leading to endangerment:Our planet is continually changing, causing habitats to be altered and modified. Natural changes tend to occur at a gradual pace, usually causing only a slight impact on individual species. However, when changes occur at a fast pace, there is little or no time for individual species to react and adjust to new circumstances. This can create disastrous results, and for this reason, rapid habitat loss is the primary cause of species endangerment. The strongest forces in rapid habitat loss are human beings. Nearly every region of the earth has been affected by human activity, particularly during this past century. The loss of microbes in soils that formerly supported tropical forests, the extinction of fish and various aquatic species in polluted habitats, and changes in global climate brought about by the release of greenhouse gases are all results of human activity.
It can be difficult for an individual to recognize the effects that humans have had on specific species. It is hard to identify or predict human effects on individual species and habitats, especially during a human lifetime. But it is quite apparent that human activity has greatly contributed to species endangerment. For example, although tropical forests may look as though they are lush, they are actually highly susceptible to destruction. This is because the soils in which they grow are lacking in nutrients. It may take Centuries to re-grow a forest that was cut down by humans or destroyed by fire, and many of the world's severely threatened animals and plants live in these forests. If the current rate of forest loss continues, huge quantities of plant and animal species will disappear.
Native species are those plants and animals that are part of a specific geographic area, and have ordinarily been a part of that particular biological landscape for a lengthy period of time. They are well adapted to their local environment and are accustomed to the presence of other native species within the same general habitat. Exotic species, however, are interlopers. These species are introduced into new environments by way of human activities, either intentionally or accidentally. These interlopers are viewed by the native species as foreign elements. They may cause no obvious problems and may eventual be considered as natural as any native species in the habitat. However, exotic species may also seriously disrupt delicate ecological balances and may produce a plethora of unintended yet harmful consequences.
The worst of these unintended yet harmful consequences arise when introduced exotic species put native species in jeopardy by preying on them. This can alter the natural habitat and can cause a greater competition for food. Species have been biologically introduced to environments all over the world, and the most destructive effects have occurred on islands. Introduced insects, rats, pigs, cats, and other foreign species have actually caused the endangerment and extinction of hundreds of species during the past five centuries. Exotic species are certainly a factor leading to endangerment.
A species that faces overexploitation is one that may become severely endangered or even extinct due to the rate in which the species is being used. Unrestricted whaling during the 20th century is an example of overexploitation, and the whaling industry brought many species of whales to extremely low population sizes. When several whale species were nearly extinct, a number of nations (including the United States) agreed to abide by an international moratorium on whaling. Due to this moratorium, some whale species, such as the grey whale, have made remarkable comebacks, while others remain threatened or endangered.
Due to the trade in animal parts, many species continue to suffer high rates of exploitation. Even today, there are demands for items such as rhino horns and tiger bones in several areas of Asia. It is here that there exists a strong market for traditional medicines made from these animal parts.
Disease, pollution, and limited distribution are more factors that threaten various plant and animal species. If a species does not have the natural genetic protection against particular pathogens, an introduced disease can have severe effects on that specie. For example, rabies and canine distemper viruses are presently destroying carnivore populations in East Africa. Domestic animals often transmit the diseases that affect wild populations, demonstrating again how human activities lie at the root of most causes of endangerment. Pollution has seriously affected multiple terrestrial and aquatic species, and limited distributions are frequently a consequence of other threats; populations confined to few small areas due to of habitat loss, for example, may be disastrously affected by random factors.
Ways You Can Help Endangered Species
Make Space For Our Wildlife
Recycle, Reduce, And Reuse
|Plant Native Plants That Are Local To The Area |
Control Introduced Plants And Animals
|Join An Organization |
Make Your Voice Heard
- State and territory government conservation agencies are responsible for the management of national parks and the protection of wildlife. They are sometimes supported by public foundations.
- Tell your family, friends and work mates about threatened species and how they can help them.
- Start a group dedicated to protecting a threatened plant or animal in your area or perhaps to help care for a national park.
- Write articles or letters about threatened species to newspapers.
- Ring up talk-back radio programs to air your concerns, or arrange to talk on your community radio station.
Why Save Endangered Species
Plants and animals hold medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial and aesthetic/recreational value. Endangered species must be protected and saved so that future generations can experience their presence and value.
Plants and animals are responsible for a variety of useful medications. In fact, about forty percent of all prescriptions written today are composed from the natural compounds of different species. These species not only save lives, but they contribute to a prospering pharmaceutical industry worth over $40 billion annually. Unfortunately, only 5% of known plant species have been screened for their medicinal values, although we continue to lose up to 100 species daily.
The Pacific yew, a slow-growing tree found in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, was historically considered a "trash" tree (it was burned after clearcutting). However, a substance in its bark taxol was recently identified as one of the most promising treatments for ovarian and breast cancer.
Additionally, more than 3 million American heart disease sufferers would perish within 72 hours of a heart attack without digitalis, a drug derived from the purple foxglove.
There are an estimated 80,000 edible plants in the world. Humans depend upon only 20 species of these plants, such as wheat and corn, to provide 90% of the world's food. Wild relatives of these common crops contain essential disease-resistant material. They also provide humans with the means to develop new crops that can grow in inadequate lands such as in poor soils or drought-stricken areas to help solve the world hunger problem. In the 1970s, genetic material from a wild corn species in Mexico was used to stop a leaf fungus that had previously wiped out 15% of the U.S. corn crop.
Plant and animal species are the foundation of healthy ecosystems. Humans depend on ecosystems such as coastal estuaries, prairie grasslands, and ancient forests to purify their air, clean their water, and supply them with food. When species become endangered, it is an indicator that the health of these vital ecosystems is beginning to unravel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that losing one plant species can trigger the loss of up to 30 other insect, plant and higher animal species.
The northern spotted owl, listed as threatened in 1990, is an indicator of the declining health of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. These forests are the home to over 100 other old-growth dependent species, which are at risk due to decades of unsustainable forest management practices.
Pollution off the coast of Florida is killing the coral reefs along the Florida Keys, which serve as habitat for hundreds of species of fish. Commercial fish species have begun to decline, causing a threat to the multi-million dollar tourism industry, which depends on the quality of the environment.
Various wild species are commercially raised, directly contributing to local and regional economies. Commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest provides 60,000 jobs and $1 billion annually in personal income, and is the center of Pacific Northwest Native American culture. This industry and way of life, however, is in trouble as salmon decline due to habitat degradation from dams, clearcutting, and overgrazing along streams.
Freshwater mussels which are harvested, cut into beads, and used to stimulate pearl construction in oysters form the basis of a thriving industry which supports approximately 10,000 U.S. jobs and contributes over $700 million to the U.S. economy annually. Unfortunately, 43% of the freshwater mussel species in North America are currently endangered or extinct.
Plant and animal species and their ecosystems form the basis of America’s multi-billion dollar, job-intensive tourism industry. They also supply recreational, spiritual, and quality-of-life values as well.
Each year over 108 million people in the United States participate in wildlife-related recreation including observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife. Americans spend over $59 billion annually on travel, lodging, equipment, and food to engage in non-consumptive wildlife recreation. Our national heritage of biological diversity is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. Our quality of life and that of future generations depends on our preservation of plant and animal species.