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.
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.
An alternative to the nature reserve is the zoned reserve, an area of land or water that contains a region that is relatively undisturbed by human activity and is surrounded by areas that have been moderately changed by human activity for economic gain. The key word here is moderately. The areas surrounding the undisturbed regions need to have enforceable regulations in place that prevent humans from making extensive developments or alterations to the land or water that would harm the protected area. This surrounding area essentially acts as a buffer zone to prevent further intrusion into and destruction of the protected area.
One example of this is setting aside areas of water where no fishing is allowed. This has been shown to not only slow the collapse of marine stocks in the protected area itself but also to increase the population of marine life in surrounding areas where fishing is still allowed.
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. When establishing reserves, landscape ecologists need to take many factors into consideration.
These include the identification of biodiversity hot spots, which 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 exists nowhere else in the world. Scientists have to ask themselves, which species should be saved and why?
Landscape ecologists may also establish nature reserves, which are protected, biodiverse areas commonly located between areas of human activity, which are set aside for the purposes of conservation, study, or research. Then they have to ask, should we intervene to save an endangered species, or should we leave them alone?
It's also important to consider whether humans can live near and benefit from these areas, such as in zoned reserves. A zoned reserve is an area of land or water that contains a region that is relatively undisturbed by human activity and is surrounded by areas that have been moderately changed by human activity for economic gain.
These are just some of the challenges biologists are faced with when establishing protected areas.