Human activities have greatly reduced the amount of the earth's area available to wild species. As the area they have left declines, so will their rates of speciation. This loss of speciation will occur for two reasons: species with larger geographical ranges speciate faster; and loss of area drives up extinction rates, thus reducing the number of species available for speciation. Theory predicts steady states in species diversity, and fossils suggest that these have typified life for most of the past 500 million years. Modern and fossil evidence indicates that, at the scale of the whole earth and its major biogeographical provinces, those steady states respond linearly, or nearly so, to available area. Hence, a loss of x% of area will produce a loss of about x% of species. Local samples of habitats merely echo the diversity available in the whole province of which they are a part. So, conservation tactics that rely on remnant patches to preserve diversity cannot succeed for long. Instead, diversity will decay to a depauperate steady state in two phases. The first will involve deterministic extinctions, reflecting the loss of all areas in which a species can ordinarily sustain its demographics. The second will be stochastic, reflecting accidents brought on by global warming, new diseases, and commingling the species of the separate bio-provinces. A new kind of conservation effort, reconciliation ecology, can avoid this decay. Reconciliation ecology discovers how to modify and diversify anthropogenic habitats so that they harbor a wide variety of species. It develops management techniques that allow humans to share their geographical range with wild species.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - May 8 2001
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