Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States

Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States

Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States

Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States


From the lush forests of Appalachia to the frozen tundra of Alaska, and from the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest to the subtropical rainforests of Hawaii, the United States harbors a remarkable array of ecosystems. These ecosystems in turn sustain an exceptional variety of plant and animal life. For species such as salamanders and freshwater turtles, the United States ranks as the global center of diversity. Among the nation's other unique biological features are California's coast redwoods, the world's tallest trees, and Nevada's Devils Hole pupfish, which survives in a single ten-by-seventy-foot desert pool, the smallest range of any vertebrate animal. Precious Heritage draws together for the first time a quarter century of information on U.S. biodiversity developed by natural heritage programs from across the country. This richly illustrated volume not only documents those aspects of U.S. biodiversity that are particularly noteworthy, but also considers how our species and ecosystems are faring, what is threatening them, and what is needed to protect the nation's remaining natural inheritance. Above all, Precious Heritage is a celebration of the extraordinary biological diversity of the United States.


America First. This timeworn phrase, put in the context of the natural environment, may now be given a new and beneficent meaning. In Precious Heritage some of the leading experts on the subject present the most comprehensive and accessible account of the state of the American biota to date. They invite us to turn inward, not by abandoning global conservation but by conserving our own fauna and flora in a manner that will set a shining example for the rest of the world.

Surely the United States is the ideal country to provide such leadership. Vast in geographical extent, it harbors the largest number of known species of any temperate country. It contains the widest spread of biome types, ranging from rain forest to Arctic tundra and from coral reefs to great lakes, of any country in the world. Few people, including even many scientists who specialize on biodiversity, have grasped the full magnitude of the American biota as summarized by the Precious Heritage authors. The 200,000 or so U.S. species described scientifically to date are more than 10% of all those known on Earth. Among the countries of the world, the United States leads in diversity of salamanders, crayfishes, freshwater turtles, and freshwater mollusks. It has the most species of mammals and among the richest flora of any temperate country.

Moreover, this remarkable biota is only partly explored. Hundreds of new species are still being discovered each year, especially among the more obscure invertebrates of small size. When insects, the most speciose of all groups, are thrown in, the full number of species, both those already known to science and others still unknown, might easily be doubled.

For generations Americans, thoughtlessly pursuing material advantage, have savaged their natural environment. Most of the original prairies and eastern forests are gone; rivers have been dammed and their unique plants and animals diminished in population or extinguished outright. The course . . .

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