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Landscape Ecology: Establishing Protected Areas

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  • 0:00 Establishing Protected Areas
  • 0:38 Biodiversity Hot Spots
  • 2:12 Nature Reserves
  • 3:13 Zoned Reserves
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson focuses on some of the concerns biologists and ecologists face when identifying and establishing biodiversity hot spots and nature reserves. Take the short quiz at the end to test your understanding.

Establishing Protected Areas

When you want to protect something, a lot of thought must go into how it can be protected and the pros and cons of each method. For example, you can protect your home with a guard dog, but then you have to feed it and walk it. You can buy a security system, but then you have to pay a hefty monthly fee.

Landscape ecology is the science and study of how spatial arrangements of habitats affect ecological processes, the abundance of organisms, and the distribution of these organisms. One of the jobs of landscape ecologists is to establish protected areas, which requires taking many factors into consideration.

Biodiversity Hot Spots

When biologists and ecologists try to figure out which area of a state, country, or region they need to protect, they commonly focus on biodiversity hot spots. These are relatively small areas of land or water that have a large number of threatened or endangered species and/or a lot of endemic species. Endemic species are species that exist nowhere else in the world. This seems like the logical area to protect, right? And in some ways, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

However, protecting hot spots is not without its problems. First of all, biologists need to identify these hot spots. And, herein lies the first challenge. A hot spot for an endangered animal like a rhino may not be a hot spot for an endangered species of butterfly found nearby. Hot spots are often chosen based on the types of plants or vertebrates found in the area, while sacrificing, ignoring, or paying less attention to the kinds of invertebrates or microorganisms found therein.

Another challenge in identifying a hot spot for protection is climate change. Today's hot spot may not be tomorrow's hot spot as a result of changing conditions. For example, a biodiversity hot spot in one area of the country filled with plants that need saving may not be able to withstand the increasing local temperature in the following years and decades, causing those same plants to become extinct as a result of increasing heat and dryness.

Nature Reserves

Similar problems arise when establishing protected areas in the form of nature reserves. A nature reserve is a protected, biodiverse area commonly located between areas of human activity, set aside for the purposes of conservation, study, or research. Setting aside such areas is very important, but how big should they be? How should they be managed? These are important questions that must be answered.

For example, do we try and prevent fires in a preserve, or do we allow them to happen as nature intended? If we allow fires to happen, they may wipe out important species or threaten neighboring human communities. If we do not allow fires to occur, then species of plants like grasses that depend on fires may become extinct.

And how big should these reserves be? If they're too small, then large mammals like bears or elephants may not be able to thrive. But, constructing smaller, unconnected reserves can help slow the spread of disease between populations.

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