Desert biomes receive very little rain and cover about one-fifth of the planet's surface. They are divided into four sub-habitats based on their location, aridity, climate and temperature: arid deserts, semi-arid deserts, coastal deserts and cold deserts.
● Arid deserts are hot and dry and are located at low latitudes throughout the world. Temperatures are warm all year and hottest during the summer. Arid deserts receive little rainfall, and most rain that does fall usually evaporates. Arid deserts are located in North America, South America, Central America, Africa, Australia and Southern Asia.
● Semi-arid deserts are usually not as hot and dry as arid deserts. They have long, dry summers and cool winters with some rain. Semi arid deserts are found in North America, Europe, Asia, Newfoundland and Greenland.
● Coastal deserts are usually located on the western edges of continents at approximately 23°N and 23°S latitude, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Cold ocean currents run parallel to the coast, producing heavy fogs. Despite high humidity in coastal deserts, it rarely rains.
● Cold deserts have low temperatures and long winters and are found above the treelines of mountain ranges and in the Arctic and Antarctic. They experience more rain than other deserts. Many locations of the tundra are cold deserts.
Desert animals include coyotes, kangaroo rats, spiders, meerkats, roadrunners, reptiles, toads, snakes, pronghorn, birds and bats.
Dry and baron landscapes, deserts receive intense sunshine and little rain. They are places of extremes, with a greater range of temperatures throughout the day than any other habitats. Temperatures range from boiling in the middle of the day, to freezing at night.
The two main types of deserts are true deserts (hot deserts) and semi-deserts.
True deserts are located on either side of the tropics.
Semi-deserts occur on every continent, usually far from the tropics. Semi-deserts receive at least twice as much rain each year than true deserts.
Deserts are formed from large fluctuations in temperature between day and night which puts strain on rocks. The stress causes the rocks to break into pieces. Occasional downpours of rain cause flash floods. The rain falling on hot rocks can cause them to shatter. The rubble is strewn over the ground and further eroded by the wind. Wind-blown sand grains further break down stones, causing more sand. Rocks are smoothed down, and the wind sorts sand into deposits. The grains end up as sheets of sand.
Other deserts are flat, stony plains where all the fine material has been blown away leaving an area of smooth stones. These deserts are called desert pavements and little further erosion takes place. Some deserts include rock outcrops, exposed bedrock and clays once deposited by flowing water. Oases occur where there are underground sources of water in the form of springs and seepages from aquifers.
A unique desert is the Gobi desert in Asia which is located across China and stretches up to the Siberian Mountains where winters are very cold. Despite the cold winters, the mountains block rain-clouds from reaching the desert area.
A variety of plants and animals live in desert habitats. Plants tend to be tough and wiry with small or no leaves. Some plants germinate, bloom and die in the course of a few weeks after rainfall. Some long-lived plants survive for years with deep roots that tap into underground moisture.
Most animals are nocturnal, coming above ground or out of the shade at night when temperatures are cooler. Reptiles, insects and small birds are the most common animals in true deserts. Mammals are more common in semi-deserts, where plant life is more plentiful.
Animals of the deserts are adapted to dry and arid conditions. They are efficient at conserving water, extracting most of their needs from their food and concentrating their urine. The addax antelope, dik-dik, Grant's gazelle and oryx never need to drink. The thorny devil in Australia sucks water through channels in its body located from its feet to its mouth. The camel minimizes its water loss by producing concentrated urine and dry dung, and is able to lose 40% of its body weight through water loss without dying of dehydration. Camels have humps of fatty tissue that concentrate body fat in one area, minimizing the insulating effect fat would have if distributed over their whole bodies. Birds are able to fly to areas of greater food availability as the desert blooms after local rainfall, and can fly to faraway waterholes. Carnivores obtain much of their water needs from the body fluids of their prey.
Flies, beetles, ants, termites, locusts, millipedes, scorpions and spiders have hard cuticles which are impervious to water and many lay their eggs underground where their young develop away from the surface temperature extremes. Some arthropods make use of the ephemeral pools that form after rain and complete their life cycle in a matter of days.
Reptiles do not sweat, so they shelter during the heat of the day. In the first part of the night, as the ground radiates the heat absorbed during the day, they emerge and search for prey. Some snakes move sidewards to navigate high sand-dunes. Even amphibians have adapted to desert habitats, spending the hot dry months in deep burrows where they shed their skins numerous times to create cocoons around them to retain moisture.
Some animals remain in a state of dormancy for long periods, becoming active again when the rare rains fall. They then reproduce rapidly while conditions are favorable before returning to dormancy.
Deserts habitats have been the least affected by human activities, remaining relatively untouched. Threats do include extraction of oil from the sand and grazing farm animals that deplete desert plants, threatening wildlife that rely on those plants. Desertification can be caused by tilling for agriculture, overgrazing and deforestation.
"Dead zone" is a more common term for hypoxia, which refers to a reduced level of oxygen in the water. Hypoxic zones are areas in the ocean of such low oxygen concentration that animal life suffocates and dies, and as a result are sometimes called "dead zones."
One of the largest dead zones forms in the Gulf of Mexico every spring. Each spring as farmers fertilize their lands preparing for crop season, rain washes fertilizer off the land and into streams and rivers.
Less oxygen dissolved in the water is often referred to as a “dead zone” because most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.
Hypoxic zones can occur naturally, but scientists are concerned about the areas created or enhanced by human activity. There are many physical, chemical, and biological factors that combine to create dead zones, but nutrient pollution is the primary cause of those zones created by humans.
Excess nutrients that run off land or are piped as wastewater into rivers and coasts can stimulate an overgrowth of algae, which then sinks and decomposes in the water. The decomposition process consumes oxygen and depletes the supply available to healthy marine life.
Dead zones occur in many areas, particularly along the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes, but there is no part of the world that is immune. The second largest dead zone in the world is located in the U.S., in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
There is strong evidence that global sea level is now rising at an increased rate and will continue to rise during this century. A warming climate can cause seawater to expand and ice over land to melt, both of which can cause a rise in sea level.
While studies show that sea levels changed little from AD 0 until 1900, sea levels began to climb in the 20th century.
The two major causes of global sea-level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers) due to increased melting.
First, as the oceans warm due to an increasing global temperature, seawater expands—taking up more space in the ocean basin and causing a rise in water level.
The second mechanism is the melting of ice over land, which then adds water to the ocean.
Records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year. This is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years.
Even though American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, only about half are aware that food waste is a problem. Even more, researchers have identified that most people perceive benefits to throwing food away, some of which have limited basis in fact.
A recent study found that 53 percent of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem. This is about 10 percent higher than a previous study, which indicates awareness of the problem could be growing.
But it is still amazingly low. If we can increase awareness of the problem, consumers are more likely to increase purposeful action to reduce food waste. You don’t change your behavior if you don’t realize there’s a problem in the first place.
Generally, people consider three things regarding food waste. They perceive there are practical benefits, such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness, but at the same time they feel guilty about wasting food. They also know that their behaviors and how they manage their household influences how much food they waste.
How Americans Think About Food Waste:
Perceived benefits: 68 percent believe that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59 percent believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful.
Feelings of guilt: 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food. At the same time, only 58 percent understand that throwing away food is bad for the environment, and only 42 percent believe wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
Control: 51 percent believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste and 42 percent say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53 percent admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87 percent think they waste less food than similar households.
Many people feel they derive some type of benefit by throwing food away, but many of those benefits are not real. For example, they misunderstand “Sell by” and “Use by” dates on food packages. Only in rare circumstances is that date about food safety.
Food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in the U.S. and the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers can help by reducing food waste.
Wildlife preservation is informed management of the natural environment to protect and benefit plants and animals. Extinction may occur due to natural causes. However, the actions of people and the growth of human population have all too quickly created a threat to the well being of wildlife. There have been declines in the numbers of some species and extinction of others. The need for conservation was created by human beings.
About 2 million years ago, when Homo sapiens first appeared on the earth, their world was biologically rich. Millions of species of plants and animals flourished...from the single celled to the complex. The first humans enjoyed a lush and beautiful environment filled with brilliant color and variety. Every ecosystem harbored life in many forms...from forest to meadow, wetland to desert.
These early people chose to decorate their dwellings with paintings of the wildlife that made up their environment. As they evolved and developed belief systems, they used the plants and animals that surrounded them in their rituals. Nature was integrated into their culture. It has played an important part in the way modern man thinks and behaves today. We bring nature into our daily lives. If you have a companion animal, or even a house plant, if you enjoy a landscape painting or a piece of nature photography, or if you visit a park or a nature preserve, you are recognizing the importance of natural elements in your life. The difference we perceive in the range of natural settings, from the beauty of a garden to the desolation of a vacant lot, is determined by the kinds of organisms that each contains and the communities they form.
ALL THINGS CONTRIBUTE
Few of us would prefer an environment of concrete buildings and asphalt paving to gorgeous coastlines, majestic mountains or peaceful forests. Our pleasure in life would be diminished if only one bird sang, or merely a handful of fish lived in the sea. But our aesthetic appreciation of the wildlife that fills our earth is only one reason to preserve the variety and abundance of species. All living things contribute to the ecology and are vital to its health and continuation. Despite our advances in technology, we as human beings still rely on our environment to provide many of the things necessary to our survival. The earth's biodiversity supports all life, including that of humans. Our food, medicines, energy sources, textiles and building materials are all derived directly or indirectly from living organisms. Our way of life is inextricably linked to the natural world.
Plants convert the energy of the sun through photosynthesis into the energy that sustains all life on this planet. Everything we eat can be traced to either a plant or to an animal that lived by eating plants. For this reason, the vegetation on this planet is necessary to our survival. Maintaining a variety of plant forms is crucial. Although the food we consume represents only about 100 kinds of plants, there are countless others we might utilize. As our population increases and land for agricultural use dwindles, we will have to look for other food crops and new ways to grow them. It is important to preserve a variety of plant species with their future use in mind.
Almost all of our medicines come from living organisms: some directly as from bacteria or fungi or plants, others are now synthetically made but were originally discovered in their natural form. In China and other parts of the world, medicinal plants in their original form are used as treatment for all kinds of illness. Many of our manufactured pharmaceuticals offer a more controlled use of these plants, but are none the less dependent upon them. Science hopes to identify even more organisms beneficial to the treatment of disease. We have only scratched the surface of the vast number of plant species to be studied. A great discovery could still be found that might change the lives of millions.
The study of living things advances our knowledge in all areas. By observing the behavior of the great apes anthropologists learn about prehistoric man. By studying the movements of the creatures and plants of the earth engineers can learn about mechanics. Yet there are organisms that have yet to be scientifically studied. For example, fungi exist in countless numbers and forms. They can be used to preserve food, to produce medicine such as antibiotics without which many lives would be lost and much of the food we eat depends on them. We would have no bread if not for yeast to make it rise, no wine without fermentation. The importance of the organisms around us gains some perspective when we see the practical and economic applications of those organisms. Yet we have explored only a fraction of the species of existing fungi. There are secrets yet to be learned and benefits yet to be gained. If even one species is lost we may have missed a vital opportunity to improve our lives. The one species that perishes might have had the potential to feed entire populations, to cure disease or to provide invaluable knowledge.
We must also see beyond our own needs. There is a much larger picture and many ecological reasons to preserve species. Scientists refer to the role played by living things as "ecosystem services." Communities of microbes, plants and animals, along with nonliving environmental features such as soil and water, constitute an ecosystem. Ecosystem services are provided by many species including those that prevent soil erosion or affect the quality of the air, or convert the energy from the sun into food, or influence the climate, and other functions vital to the ecosystem as a whole.
Optimally, the earth is self-perpetuating, but its continued ability to be a healthy environment for humans is dependent upon the species that sustain its ecosystems. The forests, wetlands, prairies and deserts are all necessary to its well being. If we continue to allow species to die out, it will become increasingly difficult for these ecosystems to operate successfully and it may become difficult for all living things to survive.
The very climate of the earth is dependent on the vital ecosystems that comprise it. The earth's forests perform the vital task of photosynthesis, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as plants make food. If the forests are cleared and not replaced, our atmosphere will change.
TAKING IT FOR GRANTED
There is dramatic evidence that the earth's ecology is badly stressed. We have taken the importance of the ecosystem for granted and we are blind and deaf to the signs of the strain. Because plants that hold soil in their roots have been eliminated, about one-fifth of all the topsoil in the world has eroded and is lost. The consequences of this loss are fewer plants, fewer productive farms and therefore less food for animals and humans alike. Understanding and maintaining natural communities is the key to sustaining life on earth. No species is unimportant. They are all part of the system.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Beyond the questions of ecology and economics is the ethical issue. What right do we have as one single species to destroy other living things. Human beings began to destroy the other organisms in their environment when they began to practice agriculture more than 10,000 years ago. There were no more than several million people then. With our exploding population the rate of consumption has proportionately increased...about 40 percent of the net biological productivity (what is produced by all living organisms) on the land. We are already taking a disproportionate share of the bounty of the earth. Ecologists believe that we need to respect the value of other organisms and preserve them before we increase that share. These organisms deserve our respect. They support our very lives on the planet.
With the development of ever more efficient weapons, humans have been able to kill wildlife with growing efficiency. Hunters have caused several species of animals to perish. For agriculture, industry and for living space we have cleared the forests, drained the wetlands, and dammed the rivers. This encroachment on the environment has negatively impacted vast amounts of plant and animal habitat. What hasn't been destroyed has been disrupted, and the natural processes altered. This affects the diversity and size of wildlife populations in these habitats. Some are no longer connected to their ecosystems.
Various species became extinct before there were humans on the earth, but new species developed to replace them. The variety of life continued. Now, however, when people kill off a species there is little hope that it will be replaced. The variety of life is decreasing. Many species of wildlife are gone forever. In North America alone such extinction includes the Carolina parakeet, the passenger pigeon, the California grizzly bear and a birch tree that once flourished in Virginia.
An increased interest in conservation began in the late nineteenth century. Many governments passed laws to protect and set aside national parks and reserves for wildlife. It was these efforts that saved the American bison, the pronghorn and many rare plants found in Hawaii and in the Galapagos. Yet several hundred species of animals and thousands of species of plants are still at risk. These include well-loved animals like the Giant Pandas, the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger, the blue whale, the mountain gorilla, the whooping crane, the California condor, the Florida panther and all the Asian rhinoceroses. The St. Helena redwood, the black cabbage tree, the Ozark chestnut and several kinds of California manzanitas face extinction as well.
Wetland conservation is aimed at protecting and preserving areas where water exists at or near the earth's surface, such as swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands cover at least 6% of the earth and have become a focal issue for conservation due to the 'ecosystem services' they provide.
More than three billion people, around half the world’s population, obtain their basic water needs from inland freshwater wetlands. The same number of people rely on rice as their staple food, a crop grown largely in natural and artificial wetlands. In some parts of the world, such as the Kilombero wetland in Tanzania, almost the entire local population relies on wetland cultivation for their livelihoods.
In addition to food, wetlands supply fiber, fuel and medicinal plants. They also provide valuable ecosystems for birds and other aquatic creatures, help reduce the damaging impact of floods, control pollution and regulate the climate. From economic importance, to esthetics, the reasons for conserving wetlands have become numerous over the past few decades.
The main functions performed by wetlands are water filtration, water storage, biological productivity, and habitat for wildlife.
Wetlands aid in water filtration by removing excess nutrients, slowing the water allowing particulates to settle out of the water which can then be absorbed into plant roots. Studies have shown that up to 92% of phosphorus and 95% of nitrogen can be removed from passing water through a wetland. Wetlands also let pollutants settle and stick to soil particles, up to 70% of sediments in runoff. Some wetland plants have even been found with accumulations of heavy metals more than 100,000 times that of the surrounding waters' concentration. Without these functions, the waterways would continually increase their nutrient and pollutant load, leading to an isolated deposit of high concentrations further down the line. An example of such a situation is the Mississippi River’s dead zone, an area where nutrient excess has led to large amounts of surface algae which use up the oxygen and create hypoxic conditions (very low levels of oxygen).
Wetlands can even filter out and absorb harmful bacteria from the water. Their complex food chain hosts various microbes and bacteria, which invertebrates feed on. These invertebrates can filter up to 90% of bacteria out of the water this way.
Wetlands can store approximately 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater per acre. When you combine that with the approximate total acres of wetlands in the United States (107.7 million acres), you get an approximate total of 107.7 - 161.6 million million gallons of floodwater US wetlands can store. By storing and slowing water, wetlands allow groundwater to be recharged. And combining the ability of wetlands to store and slow down water with their ability to filter out sediments, wetlands serve as strong erosion buffers.
Through wetlands ability to absorb nutrients, they are able to be highly biologically productive (able to produce biomass quickly). Freshwater wetlands are even comparable to tropical rainforests in plant productivity. Their ability to efficiently create biomass may become important to the development of alternative energy sources.
While wetlands only cover around 5% of the Conterminous United States’s land surface, they support 31% of the plant species. They also support, through feeding and nesting, up to ½ of the native North American bird species.
Nearly all wetland conservation work is done through one of 4 channels. They consist of easements, land purchase, revolving land and monetary funding. In locations where wildlife habitat has been degraded and the land is for sale, wetland conservation organizations will seek to acquire it. Once purchased, the habitat will be restored and easements will be placed on land to perpetually protect resource values.
People commonly perceive mountains as pyramid-shaped masses that steadily narrow as they slope upward. But researchers have found they actually have four principal shapes. Not only are pyramid-shaped mountains in the minority, but most ranges increase in area at higher elevations. Besides reshaping the mountains in our mind's eye, these findings could lead scientists to reconsider conservation strategies for mountain species.
The four principal shapes of mountain ranges include: diamond, pyramid, inverted pyramid and hourglass. For all the range shapes except pyramid, land availability can be greater at higher elevations than it is farther down the mountainside. Yet, people's idea that land area steadily shrinks as a mountain rises is so entrenched that it has come to guide conservation plans and research. This needs to change.
A majority of mountain ranges studied (39 percent), such as the Rocky Mountains, are diamond-shaped. This means that land-area increases from the bottom until the mid-elevation range before contracting quickly. Hourglass-shaped mountain ranges such as the Himalayas make up 23 percent of ranges. Land area in these types rises slightly then decreases at mid-elevations before increasing sharply at higher elevations. The nearby Kunlun Mountains of China are representative of the 6 percent of ranges worldwide that take the form of inverse pyramids which gradually expand in area as elevation increases before, like the hourglass ranges, suddenly widening toward their peaks.
As mountain species move to higher elevations to escape rising global temperatures, they are expected to face a consistent loss of territory – as well as an increase in resource competition. That all but ensures their eventual extinction. But while this risk exists in pyramid-shaped ranges, many species in other range types might in fact benefit from seeking higher altitudes if they move to an elevation with more land area than the one they left.
Research is needed to more precisely identify those elevation zones where species will encounter territory losses and potentially become more threatened as they move upward. The limited resources that exist for conservation could then be targeted to those species.
Animals that could benefit from an increase in elevation may still face other threats – habitat loss, food availability and exposure to existing animals and diseases, for instance. Even the range shapes themselves provide unique areas of concern. Hourglass-shaped ranges such as the Himalayas present a "bottleneck" at mid-elevation that could become overwhelmed with species moving upslope from more expansive lower elevations.
Not every elevation holds equal value for limited conservation resources. Some gradients, and some portions of gradients, will be more important than others. Protecting land within an elevational bottleneck, for example, is critical. That is where species will be greatly pressured, and often long before they reach the mountaintop.
Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world's oceans and waterways.
Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. It is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem.
There is no part of the world left untouched by debris and its impacts. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy, and human health.
Most of all, marine debris is preventable.
Anything man-made, including litter and fishing gear, can become marine debris once lost or thrown into the marine environment. The most common materials that make up marine debris are plastics, glass, metal, paper, cloth, rubber, and wood.
Glass, metal, and rubber are similar to plastic in that they are used for a wide range of products. While they can be worn away - broken down into smaller and smaller fragments - they generally do not biodegrade entirely. As these materials are used commonly in our society, their occurrence as marine debris is overwhelming.
Debris typically comes from both land-based and ocean-based sources. Plastics are used in many aspects of daily life and are a big part of our waste stream. Derelict fishing gear refers to nets, lines, crab/shrimp pots, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned, or discarded in the marine environment. Thousands of abandoned and derelict vessels litter ports, waterways and estuaries, creating a threat to navigation, recreation, and the environment.
How does marine debris move and where does it go? Wind, gyres, and ocean currents all impact how marine debris gets around. Floatable marine debris items, once they enter the ocean, are carried via oceanic currents and atmospheric winds. Factors that impact currents and winds, such as El Niño and seasons, also affect the movement of marine debris in the ocean. Debris items can be carried far from their origin, which makes it difficult to determine exactly where an item came from. Oceanic features can also help trap items in debris accumulation zones, often referred to in the media and marine debris community as “garbage patches.”
Wildlife entanglement and ingestion, economic costs, and habitat damage are some impacts of marine debris.
Marine debris is an eyesore along shorelines around the world. It degrades the beauty of the coastal environment and, in many cases, may cause economic loss if an area is a popular tourist destination. Would you want to swim at a beach littered in trash? Coastal communities may not have the resources to continually clean up debris.
Marine debris can scour, break, smother, and otherwise damage important marine habitat, such as coral reefs. Many of these habitats serve as the basis of marine ecosystems and are critical to the survival of many other species.
Wildlife Entanglement and Ghostfishing
One of the most notable types of impacts from marine debris is wildlife entanglement. Derelict nets, ropes, line, or other fishing gear, packing bands, rubber bands, balloon string, six-pack rings, and a variety of marine debris can wrap around marine life. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death.
Many animals, such as sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, have been known to ingest marine debris. The debris item may be mistaken for food and ingested, an animal's natural food (e.g. fish eggs) may be attached to the debris, or the debris item may have been ingested accidentally with other food. Debris ingestion may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death.
Vessel Damage and Navigation Hazards
Marine debris can be quite large and difficult to see in the ocean, if it's floating below the water surface. Encounters with marine debris at sea can result in costly vessel damage, either to its structure or through a tangled propeller or clogged intake.
Alien Species Transport
If a marine organism attaches to debris, it can travel hundreds of miles and land on a shoreline where it is non-native. Invasive species can have a devastating impact on local ecosystems and can be costly to eradicate.
Marine debris, especially large and heavy debris, can crush and damage coral.
Coral reef ecosystems are complex, dynamic, and sensitive systems. Although they are geologically robust and have persisted through major climactic shifts, they are however, sensitive to small environmental perturbations over the short-term.
Natural And Human Influences
Slight changes in one component of the ecosystem affect the health of other components. Changes may be attributed to a number of causes but generally fall into two categories, natural disturbances and anthropogenic disturbances. Distinguishing between natural and anthropogenic disturbance is not always simple because the impacts of human actions may not be seen until well after the action has occurred, or may not be seen until it is coupled with a natural disturbance. Also, some events that appear to be natural may have been influenced by human actions. Impacts may be direct or indirect and may be compounded where several occur. For these reasons, it is often difficult to make cause-and-effect linkages when reef degradation is observed.
Coral reef ecosystems are naturally variable and experience natural disturbances that vary on both temporal and spatial scales. Natural disturbance events that affect coral reefs include tropical storms, outbreaks of a coral predators, disease, extended periods of elevated or low water temperatures, and extremely low tides.
Although these events disturb the reefs and may kill a significant amount of coral, they are part of a natural cycle that reefs experience and the reef ecosystem may benefit in other ways. The destruction caused by a hurricane, for example, opens space for reef organisms that had been excluded by larger and longer lived corals. Hurricanes also flush out accumulated sediment within the reef and create more substrate for organisms to settle and grow on.
A healthy reef ecosystem will eventually recover from natural disturbance events. However, when these natural disturbances occur to a reef system that has been impacted by human activities, the reef system may have a reduced or even no capacity to rebound. A natural disturbance acting synergistically with accumulated human impacts may result in destruction that is not reversed in the same time frame it naturally would occur.
Coral reefs around the world have experienced major recent natural disturbances. These natural events may have been influenced by human activities.
A recent World Resources Institute report estimates that nearly 60 percent of the world's reefs are threatened by increasing human activity. The expanding human population and its activities may impact coral reef health in a number of ways.
Development, urbanization, and agriculture lead to increases in freshwater runoff, polluted runoff, sedimentation, and nutrient inputs. Growing industry and automobile usage cause an increase in emissions contributing to the green house effect and chemical deposition from air to water. Commercial and private vessel traffic mean the possibility of fuel leaks or spills, vessel groundings, and anchor damage.
Harvest of reef resources is also taking a toll on the health of coral reef ecosystems.
Overfishing on reefs leads to an unbalanced ecosystem, allowing more competitive or less desirable organisms to become dominant. Fishing methods such as the use of explosives and poisons severely harm reefs and reef organisms.
Harvest of coral skeleton for souvenirs depletes healthy corals or substrate where coral larvae might have settled.
Increased tourism in areas of coral reef habitat contributes to increased pressure from scuba diving, recreational fishing, and vessel traffic.
In general, oil spills can affect animals and plants in two ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Understanding both types of impacts can help spill responders minimize overall impacts to ecological communities and help them to recover much more quickly.
Spilled oil can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous. This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation. Oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur, reducing birds' and mammals' ability to maintain their body temperatures.
What Creatures Are Most Affected by Oil Spills?
Since most oils float, the creatures most affected by oil are animals like sea otters and seabirds that are found on the sea surface or on shorelines if the oil comes ashore. During most oil spills, seabirds are harmed and killed in greater numbers than other kinds of creatures. Sea otters can easily be harmed by oil, since their ability to stay warm depends on their fur remaining clean. If oil remains on a beach for a while, other creatures, such as snails, clams, and terrestrial animals may suffer.
What Measures Are Taken When an Animal Comes in Contact with Oil?
Most states have regulations about the specific procedures to follow. Untrained people should not try to capture any oiled bird or animal. At most U.S. spills, a bird and/or mammal rehabilitation center is set up to care for oiled animals.
What Type of Spilled Oil Causes the Most Harm?
The type of oil spilled matters because different types of oil behave differently in the environment, and animals and birds are affected differently by different types of oil. However, it's not so easy to say which kind is worst.
First, we should distinguish between "light" and "heavy" oils. Fuel oils, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, are very "light" oils. Light oils are very volatile (they evaporate relatively quickly), so they usually don't remain for long in the aquatic or marine environment (typically no longer than a few days). If they spread out on the water, as they do when they are accidentally spilled, they will evaporate relatively quickly.
However, while they are present, light oils present two significant hazards. First, some can ignite or explode. Second, many light oils, such as gasoline and diesel, are also considered to be toxic. They can kill animals or plants that they touch, and they also are dangerous to humans who breathe their fumes or get them on their skin.
In contrast, very "heavy" oils (like bunker oils, which are used to fuel ships) look black and may be sticky for a time until they weather sufficiently, but even then they can persist in the environment for months or even years if not removed. While these oils can be very persistent, they are generally significantly less acutely toxic than lighter oils. Instead, the short-term threat from heavy oils comes from their ability to smother organisms. Over the long-term, some chronic health effects like tumors may result in some organisms.
Also, if heavy oils get onto the feathers of birds, the birds may die of hypothermia (they lose the ability to keep themselves warm). We observe this same effect if sea otters become oiled. After days or weeks, some heavy oils will harden, becoming very similar to an asphalt road surface. In this hardened state, heavy oils will probably not harm animals or plants that come in contact with them.
In between light and heavy oils are many different kinds of medium oils, which will last for some amount of time in the environment and will have different degrees of toxicity. Ultimately, the effects of any oil depend on where it is spilled, where it goes, and what animals and plants, or people, it affects.
Being at the top of the food chain is no guarantee of a species survival. Not only are many of these so-called apex predators susceptible to human impacts, they also are slow to recover from them, which makes these animals vulnerable despite their high-ranking ecosystem status.
Ecologists and conservation biologists have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the global decline of apex predators — a group that includes gray wolves, spotted owls, bald eagles, cheetahs, killer whales and sea otters. However, restoration practitioners have met with limited success despite major efforts to recover some of the world’s most charismatic megafauna.
Recovery of apex predators is key because they often provide fundamental services such as disease regulation, the maintenance of biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. To recover apex predators, we must first appreciate that the pathway to predator recovery may differ markedly from the pathway predators initially followed to decline.
New research, conducted by Adrian Stier at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, examines the big picture with regard to predator and ecosystem recovery. Stier worked on the study with colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and University of Florida. The scientists’ comprehensive literature review revealed that full recovery of apex predator populations is currently the exception rather than the rule. In addition to well-known considerations, such as continued exploitation and slow life histories of these species, several under appreciated factors complicate predator recoveries.
Not all predator species are equivalent, so we need to tailor successful recovery strategies based on how these animals are connected to the surrounding ecosystem. The ‘when’ is just as important as ‘what’ with respect to timing predator recoveries. This means designing adaptive sequences of management strategies that embrace key environmental and species interactions as they emerge.
A good example of a successful restoration project is the reintroduction of wolves to the ecosystem in and around Yellowstone National Park. However, reintroducing wolves has not recreated an ecosystem that looks the same as it did pre-1920 when wolves were abundant. While wolves have contributed to a reduced elk population in recent years, lower elk numbers have not been sufficient to restore willows, the region’s dominant woody vegetation on which elk and other animals feed. This in turn has likely limited the recovery of the beaver population, which uses willow as building material for dams in small streams.
Sometimes just reintroducing a species isn’t enough. An ecosystem can morph into a different-looking system that can be relatively stable, and adding in these top predators doesn’t necessarily cause that system to recover back into its original state.
Then again, that may not always be the ultimate goal. Researchers point out that the recovery of apex predators isn’t always well-received, and reintroducing them in an artificial way can be controversial.
Conservation needs can be balanced. We have the opportunity to identify efficient win-win solutions that offer dual prosperity to these majestic carnivores and the human systems within which they are embedded.
Kelp forests grow predominantly on the Pacific Coast, from Alaska and Canada to the waters of Baja California. Tiered like a terrestrial rainforest with a canopy and several layers below, the kelp forests of the eastern Pacific coast are dominated by two canopy-forming, brown macroalgae species, giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana).
Conditions Required for Growth
Kelp forests grow along rocky coastlines in depths of about 2 m to more than 30 m (6 to 90+ ft). Kelp favors nutrient-rich, cool waters that range in temperature from 5o to 20o C (42o to 72o F). These brown algae communities live in clear water conditions through which light penetrates easily.
Kelp recruits most successfully in regions of upwelling (regions where the ocean layers overturn, bringing cool, nutrient-rich bottom waters to the surface) and regions with continuously cold, high-nutrient waters. Because the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen decreases significantly in marine waters warmer than 20oC, kelp experiences reduced or negative growth rates in warm water.
Kelp survival is positively correlated with the strength of the substrate. The larger and stronger the rock on which it is anchored, the greater the chance of kelp survival. Winter storms and high-energy environments easily uproot the kelp and can wash entire plants ashore.
Unique Characteristics of Kelp Plants
Instead of tree-like roots that extend into the substrate, kelp has "anchors" called holdfasts that grip onto rocky substrates. From the holdfasts, kelp plants grow toward the water's surface. Gas bladders called pneumatocysts, another unique feature of kelp, keep the upper portions of the algae afloat. A giant kelp plant has a pneumatocyst at the base of each blade. In contrast, a bull kelp plant has only one pneumatocyst that supports several blades near the water's surface.
Giant kelp is a perennial (it lives for several years) while bull kelp is an annual (it completes its life cycle in one year). Both types of kelp have a two-stage life cycle. They exist in their earliest life stages as spores, released with millions of others from the parent kelp, the sporophyte. The spores grow into a tiny male or female plant called a gametophyte, which produces either sperm or eggs. After fertilization occurs, the embryos may grow into mature plants (sporophytes), completing the life cycle.
Giant kelp can live up to seven years. Factors such as the severity of winter storms may affect its life span. Its average growth (in spring) is 27 cm/day (~10 inches/day), yet it may grow up to 61 cm/day (2 ft/day). The average growth of bull kelp is 10 cm/day (~4 inches/day).
The Kelp Forest Ecosystem
A host of invertebrates, fish, marine mammals, and birds exist in kelp forest environs. From the holdfasts to the surface mats of kelp fronds, the array of habitats on the kelp itself may support thousands of invertebrate individuals, including polychaetes, amphipods, decapods, and ophiuroids.
California sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and whales may feed in the kelp or escape storms or predators in the shelter of kelp. On rare occasions gray whales have been spotted seeking refuge in kelp forests from predatory killer whales. All larger marine life, including birds and mammals, may retreat to kelp during storms or high-energy regimes because the kelp helps to weaken currents and waves.
Perhaps the most familiar image of kelp forests is a picture of a sea otter draped in strands of kelp, gripping a sea urchin on its belly. Both sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus spp.) play critical roles in the stable equilibrium ecosystem. Sea urchins graze kelp and may reach population densities large enough to destroy kelp forests at the rate of 30 feet per month. Urchins move in "herds," and enough urchins may remain in the "barrens" of a former kelp forest to negate any attempt at regrowth. Sea otters, playing a critical role in containing the urchin populations, prey on urchins and thus control the numbers of kelp grazers.
The Bureau of Land Management’s current approach to managing our public lands is allowing companies to lease most of America’s public lands for oil and gas development – with over 90 percent of public lands open to leasing – undermining conservation efforts and cheating taxpayers, according to data detailed in The Wilderness Society’s report, No Exit: Fixing the BLM’s Indiscriminate Oil & Gas Leasing.
The Wilderness Society found the Bureau of Land Management’s current policies for oil and gas leasing are outdated and out of step with the agency’s guiding principles.
The BLM rarely closes lands to oil and gas leasing in its resource management plans, despite the risks to wildlife, recreation, cultural and wilderness resources, while ignoring important opportunities to protect other values.
There is almost no effort to protect some public lands from oil and gas leasing. 90 percent of U.S. public lands and mineral resources are available for leasing, even if BLM has found they have no actual potential for oil and gas development. The agency’s Handbook on Planning for Fluid Mineral Resources has not been overhauled in more than twenty-five years.
The current approach to leasing is in conflict with the agency’s guiding management principle, the multiple use mandate. The BLM is required to manage public lands for a range of uses such as conservation, wildlife management and recreation, but the agency routinely defaults to keeping lands open to leasing, which precludes all other uses.
When public lands with low energy development potential are leased to oil and gas companies, taxpayers lose out on revenue. These lands are routinely purchased for well below-market value, and can be held for a nominal annual fee for the duration of the 10-year lease term without yielding a meaningful return from development. Oil and gas companies often extend the terms of the leases they hold indefinitely through “suspensions,” which can last decades, with no annual fees.
Furthermore, pervasive leasing creates roadblocks for supporting other resources, such as recreation, wilderness values, and fish and wildlife habitat. Conservation efforts are thwarted by BLM’s current policies, as speculative leases prevent the proactive management of environmentally valuable areas. Protective designations for these other values are difficult to obtain – creating a double standard which improperly favors oil and gas over other multiple uses.
In the Bighorn Basin Resource Management Plan in Wyoming, the BLM considered whether to manage 43 inventoried units, totaling over 476,000 acres, to protect their wilderness characteristics. But ultimately, none of these lands are being managed to protect wilderness characteristics, primarily because they contain speculative oil and gas leases.
In the White River Resource Management Plan Amendment in Colorado, the BLM expressly acknowledged that undeveloped leases on low-potential lands effectively prevented management to protect wilderness characteristics.
Greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho is open to oil and gas leasing under the federal management plan for sage-grouse in Idaho, even though no productive oil and gas wells have ever been drilled in Idaho and 100% of the most important habitat does not have high or even moderate oil and gas potential.
No other ecosystem in America removes as much carbon from the atmosphere as prairie grasslands. Some carbon that is produced by our giant industrial complex is recycled into the fertile soils that have become a breadbasket for the entire world.
The rolling acres of grassland stretching across the center of the United States are a classic American image. Early European settlers of this eco-region were so impressed by these endless grasslands that they compared them to the ocean, and named their wagons "prairie schooners" after large ships of the time. Less than 4 percent of this once vast prairie grassland survives today.
It is fascinating to note that 80% of prairie plant life is underground. Long tentacled root systems survive grazing, fire and flood to sprout each spring and renew an amazing cycle of life that, due to its low lying subtlety, is often over looked.
The prairie grasslands begin with the Great Plains at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains and extend all the way to the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern part of the country. The Rocky Mountains prevent moist air from moving over the Great Plains, and this "rain shadow" helps to keep the prairie grasslands extremely dry. However, it is not just the lack of rain that makes the prairie a harsh place to live. Twelve thousand years ago, retreating glaciers left behind a flat landscape open to extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. The lack of geographic barriers or cover means that the wind runs rampant across the plains, leading to the "black blizzards" of the 1930s Dust Bowl and continuously endangering agriculture.
Despite these extremes, many plants and animals such as wildflowers, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes make their homes in the prairie grasslands. In addition, small, isolated wetlands dot the dry prairies, providing much-needed water and aquatic habitat for birds.
In the Northern Great Plains, these wetlands formed as the glaciers receded and left round, sunken areas behind them. Rain and groundwater fill these depressions during certain times of year, creating scattered wetland habitat known as "prairie potholes."
The Prairie Pothole Region in the Northern Great Plains contains 5-8 million small wetlands and some of the most important freshwater resources in North America. Bullrushes, sedges, and cattails grow on the edges of these potholes because they prefer standing water, and these plants in turn provide food and shelter for other species, such as birds. More than half of the migratory waterfowl in North America depend on prairie potholes for their survival.
THREATS TO PRAIRIE GRASSLANDS
Human activity has damaged many Great Plains habitats, primarily through agricultural and livestock activity in the region. For example, only 40-50% of the original prairie pothole wetlands remain intact and undrained today.
Climate change will affect the prairie grasslands ecoregion by pushing temperatures higher and decreasing rainfall in certain areas. Climate records reveal that while the average annual temperatures in the United States have increased about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past hundred years, average temperatures on the central and northern Great Plains have risen by at least 2°F (1.1°C). In some areas, such as North and South Dakota and portions of Montana, average temperatures have increased as much as 5.5°F (3.1 °C).
In addition to rapidly rising temperatures, patterns of rainfall have changed over the same time period so that the eastern areas of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado have suffered a decrease in precipitation of 10%. Climate models predict that this increased drought in some areas will cause wetlands to relocate or disappear. Climate change will challenge wetlands in particular, because most wetlands in the plains occur where the effects of climate change are predicted to be most severe. These findings imply that climatically drier portions of the Prairie Pothole Region, including areas that migratory birds rely on, are especially vulnerable. However, higher temperatures and decreased precipitation will make life harder for the entire region.
For over one hundred years, gas and oil production on public lands has caused harm to species and ecosystems and contaminated air, soil, and water. The manufacturing and drilling of oil results in public lands becoming fragmented, driving wildlife away and harming habitats. At the same time, fires, oil disasters and other pollutants result in the contamination of water reserves, both on the surface and underground. By building roads to connect to drilling sites, human activity in previously unharmed areas skyrockets, leading to littering, increased poaching, roadkill, and fires. What’s more, it becomes easier for foreign species to take over and overwhelm the native fauna and flora. Perhaps most importantly, by allowing the gas and oil industry to develop further our reliance on fossil fuels is strengthened, producing greenhouse gasses and facilitating global warming.
Massive environmental value is hidden in our oceans and public lands, ranging from clean water to clean air, and natural ecosystems providing essential habitat for some of our most endangered species. But fossil fuel is valuable monetarily, which is why the government is selling public lands to anyone willing to pay the highest bid. Corruption and greed plagues the decision making process of how to best manage our public lands and waters.
Our climate is at a crucial point. Unless we overcome our dependence on fossil fuels by 2050, we will be facing extreme phenomena such as flooded coasts, human health disasters and massive extinctions of wild species. Climate change is happening now, not tomorrow. With global warming set to boost the rate at which wildlife is pushed to extinction, there is no better use for our oceans and public lands than providing safe haven to species and protection of their ecosystems.
Despite the alarming messages, the government keeps sacrificing these habitats to the oil and gas industry, to which they have leased over 67 million acres – 55 times more land than the Grand Canyon National Park. More than 25 percent of all greenhouse emissions in the country comes from these leases, while some of our most valued lands are being destroyed.
Both our national and natural heritage pay a high toll. The nation’s public lands are industrialized, coastlines and pristine rivers are contaminated, underprivileged communities are undermined, and wildlife is pushed closer towards extinction. For every new fossil fuel lease, the world is burdened with additional climate disruption.
There is nothing rational in a policy that allows for the destruction of natural heritage so that more climate pollution can be produced. The federal fossil fuel leases in our oceans and on our public lands are unacceptable and need to stop. If we did this, we would spare the atmosphere of 450 billion tons of pollution. Vast areas of public lands, wildlife habitat and oceans would be saved in the process.
The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels report showed that by putting an end to the federal fossil fuel leases, we would prevent 450 billion tons of carbon pollutants from becoming potential greenhouse emissions. This comprises over 25 percent of the total emissions that are permitted, should the world adopt a target to prevent global warming from surpassing 2 degrees Celsius which would cause catastrophic consequences to humans and natural ecosystems worldwide.
It is impossible to stop climate change with the regulation of tailpipes and smokestacks alone; extracted fossil fuels are intended to be burned, so any policy aspiring to counter climate change should limit the fossil fuel supply. There is no better place to start this process than our oceans and public lands, which harbor significant biological and ecological value.
The aquatic biome includes habitats around the world dominated by water. Aquatic ecosystems are divided into two main groups based on their salinity—freshwater habitats and marine habitats.
● Freshwater habitats are aquatic habitats with low levels of salt, less than one percent. They include rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, swamps, wetlands, bogs and lagoons.
● Marine habitats are aquatic habitats with salt concentrations of more than one percent. They include oceans, seas and coral reefs.
Some habitats exist where saltwater and freshwater mix together. These include mud flats, mangroves and salt marshes. Aquatic ecosystems support a diverse assortment of animals including fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and invertebrates.
When evaporated sea water falls as rain, it flows down mountain streams creating rivers and lakes. Rain water feeds freshwater rivers, which then flows back into the sea. Streams, rivers and lakes are home to countless animal species.
The two main types of freshwater habitat are rivers and lakes. Lakes are often fed by streams or rivers. They can also be enclosed areas where species live that are found nowhere else on the planet. Rivers usually contain large animals able to cope with strong currents, as well as animals such as crabs and birds that feed on the fish within the water.
Freshwater rivers provide habitat to a wide variety of species including fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and mammals. An extraordinary number of fish species inhabit streams and rivers.
Freshwater lakes are also home to a vast variety of wildlife. Some species spend their entire lives in one area. Others visit momentarily to eat and drink. Many species are specially adapted to life in particular lakes. Large mammals, including zebras, primates, giraffes and deer, visit lakes to drink.
Many freshwater habitats have been drastically affected by human activities. Chemicals and pesticides contaminate the water, as well as waste water. Animals and plants that inhabit the water can be affected, as are the animals that eat them.
Oceans create the largest habitat in the world. Countless animal species inhabit the planet's oceans which cover over 75% of the earth.
The two main types of ocean habitat are coastal, inshore habitats found around land, and open ocean habitats that stretch around the planet.
More animal species live in the rich, shallower waters than the deep sea, though animals live throughout the oceans.
The ocean landscape is as vast and varied as on land, featuring underwater continental shelves, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, trenches and plains.
Warmer, coastal waters around the globe are home to the majority of species. These areas feature more food sources than the deep ocean. Smaller aquatic animals often inhabit the shallower regions. Coastal waters provide them with a variety of places to hide, with fewer large predators. Larger animals tend to prefer deeper regions beneath the waves along the continental shelves.
Plankton -- microscopic plants and animals, fish eggs and animals in their larvae form -- provide a plentiful food source for many marine animals. Tiny fishes and crustaceans, to the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, feed on this vital food source.
The two largest threats to ocean habitats are over-fishing and pollution. Pollution from the land and air accumulate in the sea with devastating effects to many plant and animal species. Over-fishing threatens many species with extinction.
Coral reefs are the richest habitats on the earth. Found along the coastlines, they provide habitat to countless plant and animal species including fish, reptiles, invertebrates, echinoderms and crustaceans. Coral reefs are located in the tropical and sub-tropical coastal regions where it is always warm, day and night, year-round.
The two main types of coral reef habitats are soft coral reefs and hard coral reefs. Soft corals are animals that move through the water, eventually settling. Hard corals are the reef-building corals that are hard coral shells left behind when corals die.
The largest coral reefs are located along the south-west coast of Africa, in the Caribbean and all around Australia, south-east Asia and the coastal regions of the South Pacific Ocean.
So rich in life and biodiversity, coral reefs are home to an incredible variety animal species able to survive together with little competition for food. Animal species that inhabit coral reefs vary tremendously in shape, size and color. Sea urchins, starfish and crustaceans are invertebrates that call coral reefs home. Sea snakes hunt small fish and eels in the coral reefs. Eels and seahorses are among the many fish species. Sharks do not live permanently in coral reefs, but visit often in search of prey. Sea turtles also make frequent trips to coral reefs in search of food.
The threats to coral reefs and coastline wildlife include commercial fishing, pollution and storms. Dredging involves dragging fishing nets across the sea bed, destroying coral reefs in the process. Many animal species that inhabit coral reefs are on the brink of extinction. Sea storms, such as tsunamis, can also reek havoc on coral reef environments.
Wetlands are found throughout the world, often in more temperate regions where vegetation grows quickly. These large areas of water contain a wealth of plants and are broken up by small islands of land. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, fens and bogs. Many wildlife species are specifically adapted to wetland environments, including fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.
The two main types of shallow watery areas are swamps and wetlands. Swamps are usually located in forested areas. Trees, such as mangrove trees, survive in salt-water conditions and require ample space for their roots. Wetlands are usually near large rivers or estuaries that flood when river banks burst from a lot of rain.
Mangrove swamps are one of the richest habitats on the planet. Numerous animals species live above and below the water's surface. Many animal species that live in mangrove forests are found nowhere else on earth. The mangrove tree's enormous roots provide shelter to small fishes, amphibians and reptiles and provide a way for the animals to get in and out of the water. Larger animals have ample fish to feed on.
Large aquatic birds such as heron spear fish with long beaks in wetland habitats. Salt-water swamps contain snapping turtles, crabs, crocodiles and alligators. Amphibians and reptiles inhabit the water's edge. Many insects live, and lay their eggs, in wetland habitats...providing food for frogs and lizards.
The main threats to wetlands are deforestation and pollution. The animals in wetland habitats are specifically adapted to their environment and are vulnerable to toxins in the water and air.
Islands form when land breaks away from large land masses or volcanoes erupt on the sea floor. They are found throughout the world. Their isolated nature results in unique wildlife species, often different from their counterparts living in mainland habitats. Some island animal species have developed completely separately from mainland species.
Numerous habitats including forests, wetlands, deserts and tundra can be found on different islands. Limited in size and resources, ecosystems on islands are fragile and easily disturbed. Human activity and the introduction of new species on islands has caused much harm, making many species endangered or extinct. With nowhere else for them to go, the loss of habitat or food sources is particularly damaging to island animals.
Lemurs live only on the island of Madagascar, the tree kangaroo only in Papua New Guinea, the kiwi only in New Zealand and the orangutan only on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Separated from the mainland, these species have adapted to their isolated environments. The kiwi and the kakapo birds have adapted to a flightless lifestyle since there were no large predators on the islands to flee from. The introduction of predators by humans threatens their survival. Orangutans suffer from mass deforestation in south-east Asia and the exotic pet trade.
A breaking point has been reached in conserving the fragile habitats of islands. Without immediate action to save these precious ecosystems, many species will be lost forever.
Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, results in no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuates the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: marine planning, marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation and enforcement.
The world’s oceans are on the verge of collapse. The overexploitation of fish has tripled since the 1970s, rapidly depleting the seas of fish. About 90 percent of the world’s fish have now been fully or overfished, and a 17 percent increase in production is expected by 2025, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The UN's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) says that the state of the world's marine “resources” is not improving. Almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974. Some 31.4 percent of the commercial wild fish stocks regularly monitored by FAO have been overfished.
The situation in the Mediterranean and Black Sea - where 59% of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels - is alarming. This is especially true for larger fish such as hake, mullet, sole and sea breams. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern.
Globally, fish provide 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans. Some 57 million people are engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.
Fishery products account for one percent of all global merchandise trade in value terms, representing more than nine percent of total agricultural exports.
The depletion of the oceans' fish starts with consumer demand. You can make a difference by eliminating your consumption of seafood. The average person can save 225 fish and 151 shellfish a year by cutting seafood from their diet.
Well over 900 plants and animals are endangered, and hundreds more are threatened. Many of the reasons certain animals are disappearing forever are because of human activities.
FIVE MAJOR CAUSES
The mnemonic HIPPO represents the five major causes of declining wildlife biodiversity:
H - Habitat Loss I - Invasive Species P - Pollution and Pesticides P - Population Growth (human) and the Pet Trade O - Over-hunting and Over-collecting
Habitat Loss results from human activities and land development. Many animal species are in decline because their environment is no longer able to fulfill their basic requirements. All species require food, water, shelter, space and the ability to find a mate and have children. Some species require small habitats, while others need large areas to successfully survive. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of habitat loss and deforestation.
Invasive Species are plants and animals transported from one country or region to another and introduced into the wild. While most do not survive in a foreign world, some assimilate into their new world and thrive. Often they out-compete native plants and animals for their niche in the ecosystem, upsetting the balance of nature.
Pollution and Pesticides, in forms of garbage and trash, air and water pollution, soil contamination and noise and light pollution, harm ecosystems and wildlife. Pesticides are toxic and harm more than their target. Pollution harms the environment and animals.
Population Growth and the Pet Trade threaten countless animal species. As humans take more and more wilderness areas for agriculture, housing and industry, less land is available for wildlife. Native animals are often forced into less suitable habitats and can decline or disappear forever. Many “pets”, including fish, reptiles, spiders, birds, rodents and exotic mammals, are harvested from the wild.
Over-hunting and Over-collecting has impacted many endangered species, reeking havoc on ecosystems and eliminating entire species forever.
HOTSPOTS & COLDSPOTS
● Biodiversity Hotspots are regions with large numbers of species that do not live anywhere else in the world, where habitat destruction has occurred at alarming rates. Many organizations and agencies focus on saving these hotspots in an effort to do the greatest good and save the most species. Hotspots make up less than 2% of the planet.
● Coldspots, over 98% of the earth, are areas that have less species diversity but they need just as much help as areas with lots of biodiversity. In fact, some biodiversity coldspots are home to very rare plants and animals. Protecting these areas before too much destruction occurs prevents us from having to work backwards.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
All plants and animals have many complex intertwining links with other living things around them. Hippopotamus have birds that feed off the insects that grow on them. If the hippo were to become extinct, so would the birds…leading to further destruction as other species depend on the birds. This is referred to as Chains of Extinction, or the Domino Effect.
A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in how an ecosystem functions. Without the keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or would not be able to survive. While all species in a habitat rely on each other, keystone species have a huge impact on their environment. Their disappearance would start a domino effect, leading to other species in the ecosystem also disappearing.
An indicator species is a plant or animal species humans focus on to gather information about an ecosystem. Their presence or absence in an environment can be a signal that all is well, or something is not right. Certain types of plants or animals may exist in a very specific area. If the species begins to disappear, this ecoregion may be shrinking and action may need to be taken to save the environment. Indicator species can tell humans about the health of the environment. Many are extremely sensitive to pollution or human interference and serve as a “miner's canary”. UMBRELLA SPECIES
An umbrella species is a plant or animal species that has a wide range and requirements for living as high or higher than other animals in the habitat. If the umbrella species' requirements are met, then so are the needs of many other species in its ecosystem. The Monarch butterfly is an example of an umbrella species because of its lengthy migrations across North America, covering lots of ecosystems. Any protections given to the Monarch will also “umbrella” many other species and habitats.
Often times umbrella species are used by organizations and agencies to capture the public's attention for support for conservation efforts. These flagship species - such as pandas, whales, tigers, gorillas and butterflies - are species that the public finds captivating and are interested in helping. When the flagship species is helped, so are species in their ecosystems that the general public may find less appealing.
Surviving in an environment of continuous threat and stress is a serious challenge for most living species. Living organisms, in whatever form, need to adapt to changes in the weather, climate and all sorts of changes in the environment. Add to this the natural calamities in the form of floods, storms, fires and volcanic bursts and their aftermath. When new lifeforms enter their ecosystems, pressure on existing species mount.
Dangers can be parasitic or predatory in nature. Challenges to adaptation can be in the form of diseases or the very complexity of biological changes themselves.
After millions of years of adapting to their environments, animals faced a new kind of threat - the advent of human beings. The effect of humans on the planet has been profound and has threatened the existence of all kinds of organisms to a degree that has caused scientists to believe that the Earth is beginning to witness extinction on a mass scale.
Being a a part of nature, the dangers arising from human actions are extensions of natural threats. But the threats from mankind are within human control and can be curbed by changes in behavior. Humans are in a position to realize the consequences of their actions on the environment and can easily make changes in behavior that would affect the future health of the planet in a positive way.
Human Threats To Animals
Destruction of habitat and fragmentation: Destruction and fragmentation of animal habitats for the purpose of agriculture, urban development, building of hydro-electric projects and other self-serving uses are major threats to the Earth’s wildlife.
Effects on global climate: Large scale emissions from fossil fuel burning and excessive flaring of gas have wrought serious damage to the Earth's atmosphere, especially the ozone layer, causing climate changes in many parts of the globe.
Introduction of new and invasive species: Loss of endemic species have been caused by introduction of new species into their ancient habitats.
Hunting and poaching: Hunting animals for sport and poaching them for profit as part of the illicit wildlife trade are among the major threats to wildlife.
Effects of pollutants: Industrial wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides have infiltrated and consumed entire habitats of all forms of living creatures and organisms.
Accidents: Loss of habitat causing animals to venture onto freeways and other manmade obstacles is also a common occurrence. More birds are being killed by a growing traffic in aviation and from colliding into windows.