Magazine article The Futurist

Saving Our Biological Resources

Magazine article The Futurist

Saving Our Biological Resources

Article excerpt

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of species each year are being lost to extinction due to human interference in natural ecology, say scientists studying the world's biological resources. In Biodiversity II, dozens of eminent scholars call for an effort similar to the Human Genome Project to discover, document, and ultimately benefit from the millions of as-yet undiscovered species of animals and plants. The effort is urgent, they believe, for time is running out.

Global warming, tropical deforestation, pollution runoff, and urbanization are all factors in the alarmingly high rate of extinction, say the volume's contributors. And while much environmental damage done by humans can be rectified in the relatively short term - perhaps 100 or 200 years in the case of the ozone hole or global warming - the loss of thousands of species and whole habitat zones in such a short time could take millions of years for the earth to recover.

The book, edited by University of Maryland zoology professor Marjorie L. Reaka-Kudla, Don E. Wilson of the Smithsonian Institution, and Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, is the first update on international efforts on the biodiversity crisis since the original volume, Biodiversity, was published in 1988.

Biodiversity's benefits to humans are often unrecognized, but agriculture and medicine rely increasingly on such benefits, notes Thomas E. Lovejoy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Cross-pollinating domesticated plants with wild varieties increases resistance to pests and diseases. For example, a type of perennial corn was recently discovered in Mexico that can be used in domesticated corn agriculture to realize farmers' long-sought dream of a marketable crop they don't have to replant every year. …

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