By Sydney Benjamin

 

We’ve all heard about endangered species. We know that they’re in serious danger of going extinct. But why should we care about them? I’ll give you four reasons.

1. THEY’RE IMPORTANT PARTS OF MANY ECOSYSTEMS

Many endangered species are also keystone species, meaning their disappearance could greatly affect the entire ecosystem they live in. Just one example of this is with the lovable sea otter who helps to keep their kelp forests healthy by eating sea urchins and other species that destroy the kelp. Without sea otters, the kelp forests would be ravaged by these predators. And, without kelp forests, coastlines would be less protected from harmful storms. Also, a new study by Christopher Wilmers revealed that kelp forests are also big absorbers of carbon dioxide, which is the main gas responsible for global climate change. Sea otters, especially along the California coast, have been hunted for their thick fur pelts and have been greatly affected by oil spills, leading to their very endangered status. According to the IUCN Red List, there has been an over 50% decline in sea otters over the past 45 years. Conservation efforts by California and other agencies up the Pacific coast have been implemented in recent years, which has led to some improvement in their numbers. (Yay!) But, because of their great loss in numbers, kelp forests have been dying out and taking their precious carbon storage and storm protection with them. If you want to learn more about the importance of sea otters, you can read here. The sea otter is just one example of an endangered species that is essential to the survival of their ecosystem. Some other examples are bees, who are the most important pollinators on Earth, and certain types of corals which provide habitat for thousands of species of fish worldwide.

 

 Image by Tony Trupp

Image by Tony Trupp

2. DIMINISHED DIVERSITY

“Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.”
— E.O. Wilson

Biodiversity, which is how many different types of organisms live in a specific area, has become increasingly important on a global scale. The most biodiverse regions of the world are the most prone to destruction, including places like the Amazon in South America, the Congo of Africa, and the California coast. The California coast is actually a hotspot for biodiversity, home to many species not found anywhere else on Earth. What this also means though is that if those species go extinct, they are gone forever. The loss of these endangered species would also mean a loss in the diversity of an ecosystem, leading to changes within the food web, habitat infrastructure, and relationships with other species. In the Amazon rainforest, for example, there are thousands of new species of animals, plants, insects, microbes, and more discovered each year. But, the Amazon rainforest has been subjected to great deforestation and habitat loss, leading to the endangerment of many species and the complete loss of some. Some scientists believe that since there are so many species not yet discovered, the cure for cancer could be found somewhere in the Amazon. When endangered species go extinct, they diminish the biodiversity of the habitat they live in. This can not only greatly affect the organisms they live with, but humans as well.

 Huge swathes of land cleared out of the Amazon Rainforest  Image by  Greenpeace

Huge swathes of land cleared out of the Amazon Rainforest

Image by Greenpeace

3. they're GOOD FOR HUMANS

Many of these endangered species offer us ecosystem services, which are benefits that humans receive from the natural environment and functioning ecosystems. We already mentioned how endangered species contribute greatly to the functioning of many ecosystems, but they can also benefit us in more direct ways. An example of this would be pollination of bees. Data from studies led by researchers at UC San Diego clearly show that the bee is the world’s most important pollinator in natural ecosystems and contributes greatly to the functioning of the ecosystem. Now, not all bee species are endangered since there are thousands of different species of bees, but overall there has been a rapid decline in bee populations around the globe. Four bumblebee species in the last 20 years have declined by 96%, and more and more species have declined or have even gone extinct in recent years. Bees pollinate much of the crops we depend on for food and help to keep plants growing. In California, much of our economic prosperity is due to our agricultural exports, supplying almost all of the country’s almonds, nectarines, kiwis, walnuts, strawberries, and more. All of these crops are pollinated primarily by bees. Almonds alone contributed about $5.16 billion in exports to the California economy, which would not be possible without bee pollination. Without bees providing this essential ecosystem service, we would not have much of the foods we eat nor the great prosperity of the California economy. The bee is just one such example of how an endangered animal can benefit people. Some mussels and fish naturally filter out pollutants in river and lakes and many tree species that could become endangered provide us with lumber to fill our homes and buildings with. The world naturally provides us many of these services.

 Photo from  BBC

Photo from BBC

4. the WORLD's WELL-BEING

Not only do they help their ecosystems, increase biodiversity, and provide humans with benefits, but many endangered species simply improve the well-being of the planet. Species we all know and love such as Asian elephants, tigers, orangutans, and blue whales are in danger of extinction. Perhaps sooner rather than later, it is possible these species could only exist in captivity. It is true that some zoos and reserves have breeding programs meant to help improve the populations of species, but in cases such as the Asian elephant, poaching pressures and habitat destruction will make it impossible for them to thrive in the wild. In large part, these endangered statuses are due to human encroachment, whether it be deforestation, urban development, or poaching. These endangered animals are symbols all over the world, easily recognizable icons that make the world a better place by simply existing. They are great attractions in zoos and reserves, which makes people care about them and want to help them.

Whatever the reason to care about the survival of these endangered species, it is important to know how our own lives impact them. Supporting companies that employ environmentally sustainable practices is a start, as it promotes the idea of sourcing products in a way that does not harm ecosystems or habitats. Humans must learn to coexist with these animals and plants in a way that is not so detrimental to their survival. Conservation practices and attempts to revive these endangered populations have grown over the years, as shown with the success stories of bringing back the white rhinos and giant pandas from the brink of extinction. It is important to keep these programs running so that more and more endangered species can thrive once more. There’s a long way to go, but we love to see these efforts and successes and hope it inspires even more hope and change for the future.

 

Help us save the Endangered Species Act from political attack here.

Learn more about the bill here.

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