Evolution And Extinction

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The goal of biodiversity does not prevent conservation biologists from seeking to preserve evolution, a process that does not a priori favor biodiversity. Species compete for resources. The winners leave offspring to populate an ecosystem. The losers become extinct. Conservation biologists live with extinction as one outcome of evolution. However, they regret the current wave of extinction and pinpoint climate change as one cause of extinction. Humans are causing the current wave of extinction by warming the climate, acidifying rainfall, and thinning the ozone layer. The burning of fossil fuels, the cutting down of forests, the depletion of fisheries, and the overgrazing of ranchland are warming the climate and threatening the biota.

Conservation biologists have committed themselves to preserving land in as close to pristine condition as possible. In 1769, French colonialists legislated that one-quarter of the land on the island of Mauritius was to remain forest, that the island natives plant trees on denuded soils, and that the natives not cut down trees within 656 ft. (200 m.) of the ocean. In 1852, British scientists urged the East India Company, which oversaw the colony of India, to preserve forests in order to ensure abundant rainfall. Their report to the company was among the earliest to link the cutting down of trees with a reduction in rainfall. Before conservation biology had coalesced as a science, con-

Conservation biologists battle problems like acid rain, which can result when factories and power plants emit sulfur dioxide.

servationists persuaded the U.S. Congress in the 19th and 20th centuries to create a system of national parks that would, in principle, remain unspoiled. Recognizing their role in protecting the habitats of innumerable species, conservation biologists aim to preserve the rainforests in Central and South America.

By the early 21st century, conservation biologists, along with scientists from other disciplines, had established the fact of global warming and had enumerated the dangers of global warming for Earth's biota. Global warming is not a theoretical construct, but a biological reality. The greenhouse effect, the mechanism that causes global warming, threatens to extinguish innumerable species. Biologists, notably conservation biologists, urge political action to counteract global warming. Conservation biologists seek an alliance with policymakers and journalists, the one to implement laws and the other to inform the public of the dangers of global warming. Biologists acknowledge the difficulty of stopping global warming. People in the developed world must find an alternative to the burning of fossil fuels. People in the developing world must find an alternative to cutting down their forests. Biologists must think of innovative ways of protecting the biota while the rest of the world wrestles with the problem of global warming.

SEE ALSo: Animals; Climate; Climate Change, Effects; Cretaceous Era; Greenhouse Effect; Greenhouse Gases.

BIBLIogRAPHY. G.W. Cox, Conservation Biology: Concepts and Applications (William C. Brown Publishers, 1997); M.J. Groom, G.K. Meffe, and C.R. Carroll, Principles of Conservation Biology (Sinauer Associates, 2006); Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (Harvard University Press, 1982); R.B. Primack, Essentials of Conservation Biology (Sinauer Associates, 2006).

Christopher Cumo Independent Scholar

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