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Protecting Life on Earth

Protecting Life on Earth: An Introduction to the Science of Conservation

Michael P. Marchetti
Peter B. Moyle
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
  • Book Info
    Protecting Life on Earth
    Book Description:

    Written to be accessible to any college-level reader,Protecting Life on Earthoffers a non-technical, yet comprehensive introduction to the growing field of conservation science. This multifaceted exploration of our current biodiversity crisis delivers vivid examples throughout, including features on some of nature's most compelling wildlife. Beginning with a brief introduction to environmental history, the text introduces the central concepts of evolution and ecology, and covers several major issues related to the conservation of biodiversity including extinction, climate change, sustainability, conservation law, and invasive species. It also touches on adjacent disciples such as economics and sociology as they relate to conservation. The text even includes practical advice on the decisions we make every day-how we spend our money, where we live and work, what we eat and buy. Throughout,Protecting Life on Earthunderscores the ways in which our future is tied to that of Earth's threatened species, and demonstrates exactly why conservation is so vitally important for us all.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94795-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    The dodo was a large flightless pigeon that once inhabited the remote island of Mauritius. It was clubbed into extinction by sailors in the seventeenth century for food and sport. The dodo is remembered today mainly as a symbol of stupidity: it was too dumb to get out of the way of humans and was therefore wiped out. Unfortunately, most species sharing this “island” planet with us are “dodos.” They cannot get out of the way of human activity and will be driven to extinction unless we actively protect them and their habitats. In this book, we show why this...

  4. 1 Environmental History
    (pp. 1-18)

    Human interactions with the environment are constantly changing. This is well illustrated by the history of human-wildlife interactions in North America, a continent that has been inhabited by us humans for “only” the past 13,500 years. Our history here is also a brief history of the concepts ofnature, wilderness,andwildlife.A discussion of the changes in meaning of these seemingly simple terms highlights the dramatic changes that have occurred in our understanding of the world we live in. The history of these ideas reflects our changing attitudes toward the environment in a broader sense and helps to illuminate...

  5. 2 Variation, Natural Selection, and Evolution
    (pp. 19-36)

    Next time you are in a place full of people, stop for a second, glance around, and notice how incredibly varied we human beings are. Hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin tone, shape of the hands, shape of the ears, jaw line, noses, size of feet: wherever you look people are different. Of course, we are really good at recognizing these differences. Now think about how different all dogs look from one another, and that no two horses look exactly alike, or that two trees of the same species growing side by side each have a unique shape and...

    (pp. 37-48)

    In order to link many of the general ideas and concepts in conservation science, you need to better understand a deceptively simple, if familiar, concept: the idea of aspecies.You have no doubt used the word (as in endangered species, extinct species, newly discovered species), but do you really have a good idea of what it means? How is a species defined? How does a species form? How do our ideas about evolution and natural selection fit with our understanding of species and conservation? We will try to answer these questions and others in this chapter.

    Speciesis a...

  7. 4 Climate and Global Patterns of Distribution
    (pp. 49-62)

    The number of species residing on planet Earth is staggering. Current estimates suggest that the number is somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 30 million. And the number of distinct evolutionary units below the species level is probably an order of magnitude higher (see Chapter 3). Of course, all of these species aren’t found in all parts of the globe, and most are quite restricted in their distribution. The enormous diversity of life around the globe is something we are really just beginning to appreciate, as shown so well by television’sPlanet Earthseries and the program’s accompanying book....

    (pp. 63-80)

    So far we have looked at the process of evolution through natural selection (Chapter 2), how species develop (Chapter 3), and how climate can set the stage for the plants and animals that live in a particular place (Chapter 4). This chapter and the next provide some basic tools and language for understanding the processes by which species adapt to their environment and interact with members of their own and other species. That is to say, these chapters describe the study of ecology. A solid grounding in the fundamentals of ecology is essential for understanding the modern science of conservation...

    (pp. 81-102)

    In the last chapter, we described two of the fundamental units of ecology, but we still only talked about single species. Clearly, species do not live in isolation; there are many other organisms that are part of each and every species’ environment. When we move from the ecology of single species to the ecology of how different species relate to each other, we enter the world of biotic communities. Figure 6.1 illustrates how one might represent these different levels of ecological organization. But communities are not the final level of organization. Communities interact with their larger environment and with each...

  10. 7 Biodiversity and Extinction
    (pp. 103-120)

    Conservation science depends a great deal on understanding the nature of biodiversity as well as on understanding the process of extinction. Biodiversity (aka biological diversity), as we will see below, has many facets and encompasses a wide range of ideas. Understanding some of these complexities will allow us to build bridges between ecological and evolutionary science and conservation science (aka conservation biology). In order to do this, we will first define what we mean by biodiversity, and then explore how it can be measured, examine where biodiversity is found, enumerate how many species we are dealing with, and discuss major...

  11. 8 Value, Economics, and the Tragedy of the Commons
    (pp. 121-134)

    At this point, we have explored some details of the planet’s biodiversity and highlighted the biodiversity and extinction crisis caused by human activities. Key questions still remain. For example, why should we care about these irreversible changes to our planet? Isn’t improving the global economy worth the sacrifice of a few obscure trees, fish, and spiders? In fact, there are many sound reasons for keeping the planet’s biodiversity intact because obscure trees, fish, and spiders make the Earth a better place for humans. Conversely, loss of biodiversity ultimately will make our planet a worse place for humans. The reasons for...

  12. 9 Conservation Science
    (pp. 135-148)

    The appeal ofconservation scienceis that it is a truly integrative discipline focused on understanding how humans are changing the world and on finding practical solutions to protecting biodiversity. What we call conservation science is usually calledconservation biology,but we are using a broader name to reflect the many disciplines that contribute to it. Its inspirational roots are in the environmental movement; its theory derives from the sciences, especially ecology and evolutionary biology; its concerns for the needs of people come from the social sciences and humanities; and its practical orientation has roots in wildlife management, forestry, and...

  13. 10 Conservation and the American Legal System
    (pp. 149-162)

    As we have seen so far, during the last 150 years, conservation science has greatly expanded its scientific scope and rigor. In addition to its scientific achievements, conservation science has broken new cultural, social, philosophical, political, and legal ground. The most powerful and far reaching of these impacts comes from the legal backing that conservation science has been granted in the United States through the many federal and state laws that protect animals, plants, and habitats. These protective legal efforts did not originate de novo with the forefathers of conservation ideas, but instead arose gradually from a shift in political...

  14. 11 Invasive Species and Conservation
    (pp. 163-178)

    The introduction of invasive alien (non-native) species into an area can result in a loss of biodiversity.

    This statement seems to contradict itself, but it is true. The reason is simply that when alien species invade an area they often drive native species to extinction. Multiple invasions of alien species thus paradoxically canincrease local biodiversity but decrease global biodiversity.Unfortunately, everywhere humans settle, they bring along familiar animals and plants. As a result, a few hardy species are enjoying worldwide distributions whereas endemic native species (those that occur nowhere else) disappear. Species that are part of this increasingly worldwide...

  15. 12 Restoration Ecology
    (pp. 179-190)

    So far in our exploration of the science of conservation, we have been dealing a lot with species loss and extinction, which are fairly negative and sometimes disheartening topics. Although the field of conservation biology exists in good part because of the extinction crisis, a growing aspect of conservation science is focused on finding solutions, especially within the emerging field ofrestoration ecology.In this chapter, we explore what restoration ecology is and what it is not; we also examine a number of examples of both large-and small-scale restoration projects to give us a flavor of where this new science...

  16. 13 Conservation in Action
    (pp. 191-206)

    Everything we do affects other species around us. We are the dominant creatures on Earth. We can choose to wipe out most of the species on the planet by continuing on our present course of population growth and accelerated resource use, or we can choose to protect our planet’s biodiversity and reverse some of the damage we have already done. It is vitally important for all of us to realize that taking on this major shift in direction is in our own best interests as individuals and as a species. Thus, to protect biodiversity and save wild creatures from extinction...

    (pp. 207-210)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 211-220)