Ecoscience: Habitat and Biodiversity Conservation Save Species From Extinction

Paul and Anne Ehrlich discuss the problems associated with extinction of species and how habitat and biodiversity conservation combats this problem.

| September/October 1982

The Ecoscience column focuses on habitat and biodiversity conservation to save species from extinction. 

Paul Ehrlich (Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University) and Anne Ehrlich (Senior Research Associate, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford) are familiar names to ecologists and environmentalists everywhere. But while most folks are aware of the Ehrlichs' popular writing in the areas of ecology and overpopulation (most of us — for instance — have read Paul's book The Population Bomb ) . . . few people have any idea of how deeply the Ehrlichs are involved in ecological research (the type that tends to be published only in technical journals and college texts). That's why we're pleased to present this regular semi-technical column by these well-known authors/ecologists/educators. 

As we've pointed out in our last few columns, most of this planet's animals, plants, and micro-organisms can be effectively saved from extinction only if they're allowed to reproduce in their natural settings. Therefore, the ability to conserve populations and species boils down — for all intents and purposes — to the ability to conserve habitat.

Now the broad outlines concerning just how this should be accomplished are simple in principle. First of all, no more virgin land should be developed anywhere. There are already plenty of disturbed areas available to fill the needs of people . . . if human population growth is brought under control in as rapid and humane a manner as possible.

It's true, of course, that there is currently a shortage of decent housing in the United States, but that problem could be remedied by the high-density redevelopment of such places as the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem, and East Los Angeles. In a similar vein, the additional food required by poor countries could likely be obtained through the use of an ecologically sound intensification of agriculture, rather than by bringing more marginal land under cultivation (and most of the acreage that is now uncultivated is agriculturally marginal).

As a first step, the few remaining undisturbed lands of Earth should be transformed into reserves, with human access to them strictly controlled. Furthermore, such areas would have to be protected not only from activities like building, mining, logging, and off-road vehicle travel but also from the more subtle threats of air pollution, acid rain, and pesticide drift. (The atmosphere, you see, doesn't respect human-made territorial boundaries.)

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