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Conservation and Restoration

Editor(s):  Sigurdur Greipsson | 

Most biologists agree that we are in the midst of a massive extinction event, a time when a great number of species are lost over a short geological time scale. The last global mass extinction was 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous, when the dinosaurs went extinct, along with up to 75% of all species. More recently, more than 85% of the large mammal species (megafauna) in North and South America went extinct between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago.

Concerns for the massive current loss of species range from the aesthetic and moral to the practical, including biological resources and ecosystem services. While the latter have gained substantial recent attention, many people still believe that the primary reason to preserve biodiversity is the inherent value of species.

Ecosystem services are processes provided by nature that support human life. These services include the water catchment and filtration, moderation of floods, pollination, and renewal of soil fertility. Ecosystem processes have until recently been largely overlooked, and not valued as part of the economy until they cease to function. When economic value is assigned to these services, it is often startlingly high. For example, insect pollinators are essential commercially for the production of many important fruits, including almonds, melons, blueberries, and apples. The global economic value of pollination services performed by insects has been estimated at $217 billion per year.

Restoration ecology is the scientific study of repairing disturbed ecosystems through human intervention. Where conservation biology is often focused on preventing ongoing degradation, restoration ecology seeks to actively reverse such degradation. Conservation biology is a multidisciplinary science that assists conservation practitioners in addressing the loss of our biological resources. Conservation biology has two central goals: to evaluate human impacts on biological diversity, and to develop practical approaches to prevent the extinction of species and maintain the integrity of ecosystems.

To develop a rich understanding of conservation biology and restoration ecology, begin with this introductory overview, and then explore the other summaries you’ll find below.

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