This tutorial will cover the topic of endangered species. We will discuss extinction and examine two examples of extinct species. We will also cover U.S. policy on endangered species through the Endangered Species Act, and we will also explore challenges to protecting endangered species.
Our discussion breaks down as follows:
- Endangered Species Act
- Challenges To Protecting Endangered Species
Throughout history, there have been five major extinctions. We are currently living during what is considered by some scientists to be the sixth major extinction, also termed the Holocene extinction.
Species extinction is a natural ecological process. However, it is currently happening at a rate much higher than the historical average due to human activities — the most detrimental one being habitat loss from human activities, followed by pollution, invasive species, and the taking of species from the environment.
Important to note are keystone species, which are those that, when impacted, can affect a large number of other species in an ecosystem because many systems are connected to them.
A species that has gone extinct is the Chinese river dolphin. Shown below, it is thought to have gone extinct around 2006, when a research team spent six weeks attempting to find any of it in the Yangtze River. Its decline has been attributed to overexploitation, pollution, and underwater explosions.
Another species that has gone extinct is the golden toad. It is thought to have gone extinct in 1989. Its home was in the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. Its extinction has been attributed to warmer seasons and a specific type of fungus that grows on the toad's skin and kills it.
2. Endangered Species Act
The U.S. passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, which required the listing and protection of species identified as threatened or endangered within the United States.
- Threatened species are those plants and animals with a high likelihood of becoming endangered.
A threatened species is the Guadalupe fur seal, which was added as threatened in 1985.
- Endangered species are those species that have become so few in numbers that they are in danger of becoming extinct in a large part of their habitat.
An endangered species is the false killer whale, which was added to the list of endangered species in 2012.
Being protected by the Endangered Species Act means that there are restrictions placed around human activities from local, state, and federal government, as well as for private industry, that might impact said species or their habitat range.
3. Challenges To Protecting Endangered Species
There are several challenges to addressing endangered species.
- Scientists often focus on an individual species instead of looking at ecosystems as a whole. This makes it difficult to identify species in danger and the causes.
- Often, by the time scientists identify that a species is potentially threatened or endangered, it may be too late to protect or reverse their decline.
- Efforts to protect species are sometimes slow, due to lack of funding and the challenge of enforcing said protection.
- Some species are seen as more appealing to save.
In an ad campaign, which of these two species do you think would be more likely to receive funding for protection, despite the fact that both are endangered?
Today we learned about extinction, including two examples of species that have gone extinct — the Chinese river dolphin and the golden toad. We also learned about the Endangered Species Act, which represents U.S. policy on endangered species. Finally, we learned about the challenges to protecting endangered species.