Term Paper: Endangered Species

Pages: 10 (2529 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Animals  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Purple loosestrife -- a European native popular as an ornamental plant in the early 1800s-- has invaded wetlands in 48 states at an estimated cost of $45 million a year for control and loss of forage crops. It is crowding out 44 native plants and endangering the wildlife that depends on them.

A ping off the list are the tiny creatures that nobody invited --microbes, insects, worms -- that often sneak in with their traditional hosts but soon found more bountiful prey to occupy themselves. "It's too late to send these organisms back," says Pimentel.

But it is not too late to tighten safeguards against accidental introductions. Because of the ease of travel and increased agricultural commerce, it is easier than ever before for species to establish beachheads in distant lands. Most of the alien organisms in the U.S. arrived in the past 70 years.

The true challenge lies in preventing further damage to natural and managed ecosystems," Pimentel told the AAAS meeting. "We have a long way to go before the resources devoted to the problem are in proportion to the risks. We hope that this assessment will advance the argument that resources spent on preventing the introduction of potentially harmful species will be returned many times over in safeguarding our environment." (Hall)

Another of the ways extinction of a species is carried out by the degradation of its habitat, say by pollution. Creatures that depend on either freshwater or saltwater for all or part of their life cycles, like fish, frogs, marine mammals, and many invertebrates, are especially vulnerable to pollution.

Water is polluted by things like run-off of fertilizers and pesticides from farms, oil and other chemicals from roads, and human sewage that flows untreated into rivers, lakes, and oceans. In addition to polluting waterways, we divert fresh water from rivers and lakes for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses. There is less water left in the rivers and lakes to dilute the polluting chemicals.

Ships pollute saltwater by dumping waste. Oil spills, like the big spill from the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989, kill large numbers of animals. Many smaller spills and leaks go relatively undetected, but their cumulative effects over the years also can injure wildlife.

Water is not the only element that suffers from pollution. Factories and cars release chemicals into the air. The chemicals are deposited on land by rain, causing pollution, including what is known as acid rain. Acid rain weakens and kills plant life, decreasing the food supply for animals that eat the plants.

Pesticides are another source of pollution. Farmers use pesticides to keep insects from eating crops. Pesticides remain in crops and in wild plants eaten by herbivores (plant eaters). Insects also carry pesticides. Animals that eat herbivores (like predatory birds) and insects (like birds and amphibians) get high concentrations of these chemicals in their systems. The chemicals can disrupt physical functions like reproduction in these animals.

There are many other factors that probably contribute to the decline of biological diversity. We know little about how changes in our atmosphere, such as global warming or ozone depletion, is affecting other life forms. Disease and insect infestations, which are natural and nonthreatening phenomena in many ecosystems, can deal a deathblow to populations weakened or depleted by other pressures. Little is known about how all these factors interact to affect plant and animal populations. We do know, however, that these "natural" changes are becoming proportionately less significant as human impacts increase in magnitude, intensity, and duration.

The new discipline of conservation biology has developed to respond to the increased threats to biological diversity. Its main goals are to determine human impacts on other species and to develop practical solutions to reduce the extinction rate.

The technological advancements in the world have led to many species going extinct. In a 24-page article in the Wired magazine Bill Joy, chief scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc. says he finds himself essentially agreeing, to his horror, with a core argument of the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski -- that advanced technology poses a threat to the human species. "I have always believed that making software more reliable, given its many uses, will make the world a safer and better place," Joy wrote in the article, which he worked on for six months. "If I were to come to believe the opposite, then I would be morally obligated to stop this work. I can now imagine that such a day may come." suite of advances disturbs Joy. He views as credible the prediction that by 2030, computers will be a million times more powerful than they are today. He respects the possibility that robots may exceed humans in intelligence, while being able to replicate themselves.

He points to nanotechnology -- the emerging science that seeks to create any desired object on an atom-by-atom basis -- and agrees that it has the potential to allow inexpensive production of smart machines so small they could fit inside a blood vessel. Genetic technology, meanwhile, is inexorably generating the power to create new forms of life that could reproduce.

What deeply worries him is that these technologies collectively create the ability to unleash self-replicating, mutating, mechanical or biological plagues. These would be "a replication attack in the physical world" comparable to the replication attack in the virtual world that recently caused the shutdowns of major commercial Web sites.

If you can let something loose that can make more copies of itself," Joy said in a telephone interview, "it is very difficult to recall. It is as easy as eradicating all the mosquitoes: They are everywhere and make more of themselves. If attacked, they mutate and become immune.... That creates the possibility of empowering individuals for extreme evil. If we don't do anything, the risk is very high of one crazy person doing something very bad." (Garreau)

Works Cited

Clark, Kerry Bruce, Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida.

Garreau, Joel, Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 12, 2000; Page A15 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/2000-03/12/215l-031200-idx.html

Hall, Alan, http://www.sciam.com/explorations/1999/021599animals/index.html

Lovejoy, Thomas E., Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. (1995)

The Endangered Species Act of 1973, http://endangered.fws.gov/esa.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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