Notes towards Conservation Biology Chapter 1

Introductory/Title Slide (1)

Hello. My name is Gwen Raitt. I will be presenting this chapter on what conservation biology is. The text is anedited and updated rearrangement (done by yours truly) of previous chapters presented by Dr Richard Knight.

Defining Conservation Biology

Conservation may be defined as the management and sustainable use of the natural environment and natural resources for ethical reasons and the benefit of humanity (Fiedler and Jain 1992). Conservation has a time dimension (Frankel et al. 1995). Conservation biology is a multidisciplinary science focusing on biodiversity and its maintenance for human welfare (Cox 1997, Primack 1998, Wikipedia Contributors 2006a). Conservation biology as a science developed as a result of the growing awareness of biodiversity loss (Primack 1998). It combines the wildlife management declining-population paradigm (which deals with identifying population declines and their causes and formulating actions that might reverse the decline) with the small-population paradigm (which considers the effect on persistence of low population numbers) (Caughley and Gunn 1996). The breadth of conservation biology extends beyondthat of biology itself – conservation biology incorporates concepts and expertise from, among others, the social sciences because human pressures have caused the biodiversity crisis (Soulé 1985, Primack 1998, Knight 1999, Wikipedia Contributors 2006a). Traditionally, it focuses the knowledge and tools of all the integrated disciplines including all biological disciplines - from molecular biology to population biology – onto one issue (Primack 1998, Knight 1999) – the maintenanceof biodiversity (Soulé 1985, Primack 1998, Wikipedia Contributors 2006a). Conservation biology is neither a pure nor an applied field but its effectiveness is based on its originality and like other fields, its scientific rigour. Its integrative nature makes it one of the most challenging fields, limited by the capacity of its managers(Knight 1999). The greatest challenge is to ensure that scientific information generated by conservation biologists is used effectively by those practicing conservation (Pullin 2002). You can search for conservation textbooks online: The picture shows the logo of the Society of Conservation Biology.

A Few Historical Highlights of the Use of Unsustainable Practices and Their Costs

Unsustainable landuse practices have been around for thousands of years (Knight 1999). Following the colonization of new territories, humans have overexploited various resources with the result that people have been responsible for extinctions for thousands of years (Anderson 1999, Knight 1999). Extinctions are a cost of not being sustainable(Knight 1999) (see the chapter on extinction in the biodiversity course). Aristotle, in the Greek period, commented on the widespread destruction of the Baltic forests. At the same time the forests of southern Asia were being felled to meet the burgeoning ship-building industry that was vital for the developing trade markets. The arid lands of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran are the result of massive exploitation of fragile woodlands. The picture shows irrigated farmland in the countryside of Iran. Even Italy and Greece were formerly far more heavily wooded than they are today (Knight 1999).

Brief History of Conservation

Early conservation was derived from philosophical and religious beliefs about the relationship between man and the natural world (Primack 1998). Sacred groves were important in Europe and India in pre-Christian times. In India, hunting and logging were not allowed in the sacred groves (Wikipedia Contributors 2006b). India has had protected areas since the fourth century B.C. (Dobson 1996). In the Middle Ages, the European royalty and nobility set aside preserves for their recreational use (Pullin 2002). Henry VIII set aside the New Forest (Dobson 1996). In South Africa, the local chief Sakhile in Transkei decreed that local forests around Dwesa were royal and forbade hunting in them. The picture shows some forest patches in the Dwesa area, Transkei. The Polish authorities set aside a nature reserve with a prohibition on hunting in 1564. This protected the last population of the European bison or wisent (Bison bonasus)(Primack 1998).

Philosophies of Conservation

Formalized philosophies of conservation biology developed into two branches during the late 19th century and early 20th century.The preservationists (such as John Muir- top picture) wanted pure wilderness based on a spiritual appreciation for nature (termed the preservationist or romantic – transcendental ethic (Primack 1998, Wikipedia Contributors2006c)) and the conservationists (such as Gifford Pinchot- bottom picture) advocated a resource-based approach to the management of natural resources(termed the resource conservation ethic (Primack 1998, Wikipedia Contributors2006c)) (Primack 1998, Knight 1999). Preservationist John Muir (1838-1914) followed the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. He believed that the spiritual benefits of nature were superior to the material benefits gained by exploiting nature (Primack 1998). Evolutionary psychology studies have found correlations linking contact with natural environments to improved mental health and morality (Wikipedia Contributors 2006a). Conservationist Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946) believed that natural resources should be used for the benefit of humanity. Correct use of natural resources requires actions to promote “the greatest good of the greatest number [of people] for the longest time” (p. 15, Primack 1998). This requires fair distribution of resources among users in the present and fair distribution of resources between users of the present and the future (Primack 1998).

The Evolutionary – Ecological Land Ethic

It was with the publication of Aldo Leopold’s“A Sand County Almanac” (pictured right) in 1949 that a third philosophy within conservation biology was born (Knight 1999) - that of the Evolutionary - Ecological Land Ethic (Primack 1998, Wikipedia Contributors 2006c). This philosophy articulated that the complicated and integrated systems of integrated processes and components that make up the natural world functioned in fashion similar to a “fine Swiss watch”. Leopold (pictured bottom right) saw ecosystems existing within equilibria, a view subsequently replaced by non-equilibrium views. His writings were inspired by his experience of the “Dust Bowl Era” on the great plains of America (Cox 1997, Pullin 2002). Even today, the science of conservation is still developing since it has been marred by past academic prejudice, which has left its development as a discipline to wildlife managers, foresters and field biologists (Knight 1999).

The Guiding Principles of Conservation Biology

Three guiding principles for Conservation Biology have emerged: evolutionary change, dynamic ecology and human change (Knight 2004). Each principle is briefly discussed in the following slides.

Principle 1: Evolutionary Change

This is based on the work of population geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (pictured right). He stated that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". Evolution is the most plausible explanation for the immense pattern of biodiversity that exists on the planet and consequently the genetic composition of organisms is continuously changing whether due to factors of isolation existing within small and/or isolated populations, immigrations from other populations or natural selection itself. Consequently, the goal of this principle is to allow populations to change in response to environmental changes through adaptations (Knight 1999).

Principle 2: Dynamic Ecology

The ecological world is seen as dynamic; largely functioning through non-equilibrium principles. Dynamic ecology specifically rejects the equilibrium viewpoint, which defines stable end points (such as climax communities) and other concepts such as the "balance of nature". This non-equilibrium view sees the regulation of ecological structure asnot being maintained through internally generated processes (e.g. ecological pyramids and the transfer of energy through food chains) but through external processes, in the form of natural processes (such as fires, floods, droughts, storms, earth moving, outbreaks of disease and/or parasites)(Knight 1999). The picture shows the Nile in flood. The annual Nile floods were important to agriculture in ancient Egypt (Wikipedia Contributors 2006d).

More on Non-Equilibrium Processes

We know that non-equilibrium processes maintain almost all ecosystems (e.g. fire in fynbos – see picture). Consequently, ecosystems consist of patches and mosaics of habitats that are not internally uniform with clearly defined species assemblages. The internal composition changes in response to disturbances. Nevertheless this non-equilibrium viewpoint does not suggest that species interactions are ephemeral or totally unpredictable. Integral to communities are clusters of species that have strong interactions that are legacies of long periods of co-existence. The critical focus of this principle is the integration of non-equilibrium processes within a hierarchy of species interactions and the recognition that ecosystems are open with fluxes of species, materials and energy (Knight 1999).

Principle 3: The Human Presence

Humans are participants within both natural and perturbed ecosystems and their presence within ecosystems needs to be recognized and accounted for. Native human cultures form historical components of the landscape and must be explicitly recognized as a form of diversity in the same way that biodiversity is. Many traditional societies have developed sustainable models of existence that can serve as models for modern sustainable development (see the Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) and Sustainability Course). Conservation efforts cannot wall off nature to safe guard it from humans because ecosystems must be seen as open systems and nature reserves inevitably exist within a surrounding landscape that is intensively utilized by humans (as shown by the aerial view of the Cape Flats Nature Reserve and its surrounds). This principle explicitly integrates humans into conservation practice. For example, indigenous local knowledge can be integrated into the formulation of conservation practice and local residents can be employed within the management and education functions of nature reserves (Knight 1999).

Aspects of Human Integration into Conservation Biology – Conservation and Economics

Economics as a discipline is, strictly speaking, an external influence within the field of conservation biology. However, certain principles of economic theory are required for the practice of conservation biology (e.g. for the acquisition and management of funds for scientific research and for the acquisition of land for conservation practices). Much of resource economics is based on the willingness to pay for certain goods and services. In the environmental sense, services can be considered to represent clean air or water. Increasingly, nature conservation is being seen as a form of land use and its value for generating capital through tourism is compared to other economic activities. The picture shows an example of ecotourism. As human societies become increasingly capitalistic in their structures so does their need to put value on natural resources (Knight 1999). The actual value that people put on a species and their willingness to pay for the conservation of an iconic or flagship species becomes more difficult to determine (Knight 2004). The development of environmental audits using species and habitats as the foci is still in its infancy. Defining the value for a global society of a Panda or Blue Whale will be debated for a long time. Nevertheless, the growing leisure and tourism industries will put increasing value on living resources existing in their natural habitats and will become integral to the economies of many third world nations (Knight 1999)! The three axioms of ecological economics are likely to have a long term impact on the value of biodiversity. These axioms are: endless expansion into a limited space is impossible; endless use of a finite resource is impossible and all the elements of the biosphere are interconnected (Wikipedia Contributors 2006e).

The World Conservation Strategy

People’s realization of their roles in determining their future on earth prompted the development in the 1980’s of the World Conservation Strategy (Knight 1999). The strategy was developed by the IUCN aided by WWF, FAO, UNEP and UNESCO. It has three objectives: the maintenance of the ecological processes that life depends on; the sustainable use of ecosystems and their component species and the conservation of genetic diversity. The revised version is entitled “Caring for the Earth: a Strategy for Sustainable Living” (Cox 1997). A South African version was authored by John Yeld in 1997. This version applies nine principles of sustainable living to the situation in South Africa and then looks at ‘problem’ areas (Yeld 1997) (See also the additional notes (slide 17) in the biodiversity course chapter 5 on reducing one’s individual impact on the earth).

Aspects of Human Integration into Conservation Biology – Conservation and Politics

It is naïve to think that conservation biology should be apolitical despite the fact that it should be for all people. The only realistic paths to sustainable conservation are through the provision of a reasonable standard of living for all people globally, which will require greater equity between the "haves" and "have-nots". This can only be achieved through political systems that encourage some people to accept lower standards of living so that others may escape the effects of desperate poverty. Conservation also needs the support of party politicians at local, regional and national level, which inevitably requires conservation biologists to invest time in lobbying and education (Knight 1999). Lobbying and education need continuous attention and strategic planning (in my opinion) because where conservation biology has a long term or ‘forever’ goal, a politician’s interest is tied to the next election (Frankel et al. 1995). The picture shows the South African parliament in session – the people we need to persuade that conservation is essential.

Aspects of Human Integration into Conservation Biology - Conservation and World Summits

The major themes of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 were the relationships between: unequal access to resources, unsustainable development generally and the loss of biodiversity in particular. Those people and politicians from the developed northern industrialized nations have more to lose so they have had difficulty in participating in this discourse and even greater difficulty participating in the design of global institutions to address the roles of inequality in environmental degradation. The picture shows the heads of the G8 (Group of 8 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UKandUSA) plus someone else - the industrialized northern nations may be considered the “haves”.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development

The United Nationsworld summit on sustainable development accepted the following:

“We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 2 to 4 September 2002, reaffirm our commitment to sustainable development. We commit ourselves to building a humane, equitable and caring global society, cognizant of the need for human dignity for all. At the beginning of this Summit, the children of the world spoke to us in a simple yet clear voice that the future belongs to them, and accordingly challenged all of us to ensure that through our actions they will inherit a world free of the indignity and indecency occasioned by poverty, environmental degradation and patterns of unsustainable development. As part of our response to these children, who represent our collective future, all of us, coming from every corner of the world, informed by different life experiences, are united and moved by a deeply felt sense that we urgently need to create a new and brighter world of hope” (Knight 2004).

The World Summit on Sustainable Development 2

Continuing from the previous slide: “Accordingly, we assume a collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development - economic development, social development and environmental protection at the local, national, regional and global levels. From this continent, the cradle of humanity, we declare, through the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the present Declaration, our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to our children. Recognizing that humankind is at a crossroads, we have united in a common resolve to make a determined effort to respond positively to the need to produce a practical and visible plan to bring about poverty eradication and human development” (Knight 2004). This represents a commitment to the reasonable living standards for all that are necessary for sustainable conservation (see slide on conservation and politics).

Aspects of Human Integration into Conservation Biology – Conservation and Standards of Living

Human expectations of a decent standard of living include food, shelter, water, space, education and a freedom of choice. Meeting these needs will increase the human pressure on natural resources. The problem of human pressure on natural resources is further complicated by the global problem of population growth – see the graph. The United States Census Bureau estimated that the world population reached 6.5 billion on 25 February 2006 (Wikipedia Contributors 2006f). By 2050, an estimated 9.22 billion people will exist(U.S. Census Bureau 2005). Most of these people will be living in the developing nations of the world, which are the most impoverished and where the greatest amount of damage to the natural environment will occur and where there is the greatest biodiversity (Knight 1999). To illustrate, Kenya will increase from about 16.33 million in 1980 to 64.82 million in 2050 with Columbia increasing from 26.58 million to 64.53 million in the same period. South Africa will only increase from 29.25 million to 33.00 million in that period(U.S. Census Bureau 2005), probably because of AIDS (Brown 2001).

Aspects of Human Integration into Conservation Biology – Conservation and Self-Sufficiency

Many countries that, a few years ago,were self-sufficient in food, now have to import food (e.g. Namibia) (Knight 1999, Brown 2001). Hungry and dissatisfied people do not always make the best use of their living space. They tend to make extensive rather than intensive use of the land (Knight 1999). Landless people migrate to unoccupied public lands (i.e. natural vegetation) where they practice slash-and-burn agriculture (Myers 1995). The techniques that could improve the situation (at least in the short term) are generally unavailable or beyond local budgets (e.g. inorganic fertilizers, high yield seeds and mechanized methods) (Knight 1999). Government indifference (as shown by their priorities) is one of the main causes of hunger. Governments need to invest money in family planning and agricultural research (on e.g. efficient water use, increasing cropland productivity and soil conservation) to achieve self sufficiency in food production (Brown 2001). Improving cropland productivity is central to protecting the world’s remaining natural vegetation esp. the forests (Brown 2001).