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

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

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

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


Written to be accessible to any college-level reader, Protecting Life on Earth offers 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 Earth underscores 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.


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 last statement is true and also why our own future is tied to that of Earth’s diverse animals and plants. Humans and other forms of life on the planet are intertwined and interdependent, so maintaining the biodiversity of living things on this planet is, in fact, in our own best interests.

Why exactly do humans have such an incredibly large influence on other species and the natural world? We are unique among all the animals on the planet in that we survive and reproduce in a wide variety of habitats. Cultural practices have allowed us to colonize nearly every part of the Earth. As a result, the human population has continued to grow exponentially for hundreds of years. Such sustained population growth is unparalleled by any other animal species on the Earth. For most species, their populations grow until they are fully utilizing available resources, such as food and space. At that point, natural mechanisms of regulation, such as disease and starvation, prevent the population from growing further and may cause a population collapse.

However, humans behave differently because we respond to resource scarcity with cultural tools and technologies that halt the natural regulating mechanisms and instead actually increase the availability of resources. We raise our food using intensive, large-scale agriculture, live in dense urban environments, move resources around the globe, and use medical technology to keep us alive longer. This process requires us to continually increase our resource use, and as a result, we accelerate the rate at which we alter the natural environment. Currently, the global human population is large enough and our technologies are potent enough that human-related alterations to the planet are causing unprecedented numbers of species to go extinct. If present trends continue, there will in all likelihood be a crash in the human population as we put demands on our resources beyond what the planet can sustain.

In a very real way, the root cause of the modern biodiversity and conservation crisis . . .

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