Conservation

What is consevation of biodiversity?

Biodiversity Conservation is defined by Britannica Concise Encyclopedia as “planned management of a natural resource or of a particular ecosystem to prevent exploitation, pollution, destruction, or neglect and to ensure the future usability of the resource.”

In the West, conservation efforts date to 17th-century efforts to protect European forests in the face of increasing demands for fuel and building materials. National parks, first established in the 19th century, were dedicated to the preservation of uncultivated land not only to provide a safe haven to wildlife but to protect watershed areas and help ensure a clean water supply.

Recent estimates of the total number of species range from 7 to 20 million, of which only about 1.75 million species have been scientifically described. The best-studied groups include plants and vertebrates (phylum Chordata), whereas poorly described groups include fungi, nematodes, and arthropods. Species that live in the ocean and in soils remain poorly known. For most groups of species, there is a gradient of increasing diversity from the Poles to the Equator, and the vast majority of species are concentrated in the tropical and subtropical regions.

Human activities, such as direct harvesting of species, introduction of alien species, habitat destruction, and various forms of habitat degradation (including environmental pollution), have caused dramatic losses of biodiversity; current extinction rates are estimated to be 100–1000 times higher than prehuman extinction rates.

Why do we conserve biodiversity?

Richness of species in an area indicates the total biodiversity of that particular area. All species display genetic variation among individuals and populations. Genetic variation brings natural selection and adaptability to changes in the environment, which ultimately ensures species survival. Genetic diversity in domestic species and their wild relatives enables researchers to develop improved varieties of animals and plants for human needs. Diversity in wild plant species is potentially a major medicinal resource, and it is insurance for further food security. It should also be noted that species that might not have known direct economic value today may turnout to be economically important in the future.

Biodiversity provides free of charge services worth hundreds of billions of Ethiopian Birr every year that are crucial to the well being of Ethiopia’s society. These services include clean water, pure air, soil formation and protection, pollination, crop pest control, and the provision of foods, fuel, fibers and drugs. As elsewhere, these services are not widely recognized, nor are they properly valued in economic, or even social terms. Reduction in biodiversity affects these ecosystem services. The sustainability of ecosystems depends to a large extent on the buffering capacity provided by having a rich and healthy diversity of genes, species and habitats. Losing biodiversity is like losing the life support systems that we, and other species, so desperately depend upon.

The conservation of biodiversity is fundamental to achieving sustainable development. It provides flexibility and options for our current (and future) use of natural resources. Almost 85% of the population in Ethiopia lives in rural areas, and a large part of this population depends directly or indirectly on natural resources. Conservation of biodiversity is crucial to the sustainability of sectors as diverse as energy, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, wildlife, industry, health, tourism, commerce, irrigation and power. Ethiopia’s development in the future will continue to depend on the foundation provided by living resources and conserving biodiversity.

How do we conserve biodiversity?

Conservation of biodiversity is basically carried out using two methods namely in-situ and ex-situ conservation methods as outlined below. The Institute of Biodiversity Conservation has implemented the two methods for a long time ex-situ conservation being complementary to in-situ conservation.

a. In-situ conservation

In-situ conservation means “on-site conservation”. It is the process of protecting an endangered plant or animal species in its natural habitat, either by protecting or cleaning up the habitat itself, or by defending the species from predators. This term refers also to the conservation of genetic resources in natural populations of plant or animal species, such as forest genetic resources in natural populations of tree species, and is increasingly being applied to conservation of agricultural biodiversity in agroecosystems by farmers, especially those using unconventional farming practices. One benefit to in-situ conservation is that it maintains recovering populations in the surrounding where they have developed their distinctive properties. Another is that this strategy helps ensure the ongoing processes of evolution and adaptation within their environments.

Wildlife and livestock conservation is mostly based on in-situ conservation. This involves the protection of wildlife habitats. Also, sufficiently large reserves are maintained to enable the target species to exist in large numbers. The population size must be sufficient to enable the necessary genetic diversity to survive within the population, so that it has a good chance of continuing to adapt and evolve over time.

b. Ex-situ Conservation

Ex-situ conservation means literally, “off-site conservation”. It is the process of protecting an endangered species of plant or animal by removing part of the population from a threatened habitat and placing it in a new location, which may be a wild area or within the care of humans. While ex-situ conservation comprises some of the oldest and best known conservation methods, it also involves newer, sometimes controversial laboratory methods.

Normally the best method of maximizing a species chance of survival (when ex-situ methods are required) is by relocating part of the population to a less threatened location. It is extremely difficult to mimic the environment of the original colony location given the large number of variables defining the original colony (microclimate, soils, symbiotic species, absence of severe predation, etc.) It is also technically challenging to uproot (in the case of plants) or trap (in the case of animals) the required organisms without undue harm.

Endangered plants may also be preserved in part through seedbanks or germplasm banks. The term seedbank sometimes refers to a cryogenic laboratory facility in which the seeds of certain species can be preserved for up to a century or more without losing their fertility. It can also be used to refer to a special type of arboretum where seeds are harvested and the crop is rotated. For plants that cannot be preserved in seedbanks, the only other option for preserving germplasm is in-vitro storage, where cuttings of plants are kept under strict conditions in glass tubes and vessels.

Ex-situ conservation, while helpful in man’s efforts to sustain and protect our environment, is rarely enough to save a species from extinction. It is to be used as a last resort, or as a supplement to in-situ conservation because it cannot recreate the habitat as a whole: the entire genetic variation of a species, its symbiotic counterparts, or those elements which, over time, might help a species adapt to its changing surroundings. Instead, ex-situ conservation removes the species from its natural ecological contexts, preserving it under semi-isolated conditions whereby natural evolution and adaptation processes are either temporarily halted or altered by introducing the specimen to an unnatural habitat. In the case of cryogenic storage methods, the preserved specimen’s adaptation processes are frozen altogether. The downside to this is that, when re-released, the species may lack the genetic adaptations and mutations which would allow it to thrive in its ever-changing natural habitat.

Furthermore, ex-situ conservation techniques are often costly, with cryogenic storage being economically infeasible in most cases since species stored in this manner cannot provide a profit but instead slowly drain the financial resources of the government or organization determined to operate them. Seedbanks are ineffective for certain plant genera with recalcitrant seeds that do not remain fertile for long periods of time. Diseases and pests foreign to the species, to which the species has no natural defense, may also cripple crops of protected plants in ex-situ plantations and in animals living in ex-situ breeding grounds. These factors, combined with the specific environmental needs of many species, some of which are nearly impossible to recreate by man, make ex-situ conservation impossible for a great number of the world’s endangered flora and fauna.

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