Fundamentals of Conservation Biology
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Fundamentals of Conservation Biology

Malcolm L. Hunter, James P. Gibbs, Viorel D. Popescu

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eBook - ePub

Fundamentals of Conservation Biology

Malcolm L. Hunter, James P. Gibbs, Viorel D. Popescu

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" This book is about hope in the face of forces that would degrade our world. This book is about the rich tapestry of life that shares our world now and about how we can maintain it, sometimes in places that we protect and set aside, more often in places where we share the lands and waters with a wide range of other species. "

For more than 30 years, Fundamentals of Conservation Biology has been a valued mainstay of the literature, serving both to introduce new students to this ever-changing topic, and to provide an essential resource for academics and researchers working in the discipline. In the decade since the publication of the third edition, concerns about humanity's efforts to conserve the natural world have only grown deeper, as new threats to biodiversity continue to emerge.

This fourth edition has taken into account a vast new literature, and boasts nearly a thousand new references as a result. By embracing new theory and practice and documenting many examples of both conservation successes and the hard lessons of real-world "wicked" environmental problems, Fundamentals of Conservation Biology remains a vital resource for biologists, conservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, and others.

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An illustration of an empty rectangular box.

Biodiversity and Its Importance

Think about our world and its wild things: a marsh splashed and flecked with the colors of flowers and dragonflies, the rhythmic roar and swoosh of waves punctuated by the strident calls of gulls, a dark forest pungent with the odors of unseen life teeming below a carpet of leaves and mosses. Now imagine a future world utterly dominated by concrete and regimented rows of crops – a hot, dry, monotonous, and unhealthy home for us and the species we have chosen for domestication. This book is about hope in the face of forces that would degrade our world. This book is about the rich tapestry of life that shares our world now and about how we can maintain it, sometimes in places that we protect and set aside, more often in places where we share the lands and waters with a wide range of other species.
The abundance and diversity of life is often apparent where water meets land, especially intertidal zones. In this photo representatives of four different phyla are evident and there are likely to be dozens of species unseen. (Terry Allen/Flickr)

Conservation and Conservation Biology

What Is Conservation?

Since the beginning of humanity people have been concerned about their environment and especially its ability to provide them with food, water, and other resources. As our numbers have grown and our technology has developed, so has the impact we are having on our environment, and thus we are becoming increasingly concerned. Media everywhere proclaim the current issues:
  • “Conservationists call for tighter fishing regulations.”
  • “Ecologists describe consequences of warmer climates.”
  • “Environmentalists criticized by chemical industry.”
  • “Preservationists seek more wilderness.”
These headlines also reveal an ambiguous terminology. Are we talking about conservation or preservation? Are the issues ecological or environmental? Students deciding which university to attend and which major to select are faced with a bewildering array of choices – soil and water conservation, environmental studies, natural resource management, conservation biology, wildlife ecology, human ecology, and more – that intertwine with one another. In this chapter we will try to resolve these ambiguities by examining how they are rooted in human history and ethics. To start on common ground we explore the key differences and similarities among conservationists, preservationists, environmentalists, and ecologists. In the second part of the chapter we will see where conservation biology fits into this picture.
A conservationist is someone who advocates or practices the sustainable and careful use of natural resources. Foresters who prudently manage forests, hunters and fishers who harvest wild animal populations sustainably, and farmers who practice the wise use of soil and water are all conservationists. Citizens who are concerned about the use of natural resources are also conservationists and sometimes they assert that the activities of foresters, fishers, farmers, and other natural resource users are not prudent, sustainable, or wise. In theory, arguments over who is, or is not, a conservationist should turn on the issue of what is sustainable. In practice, most foresters, farmers, ranchers, and others – many of whom are careful stewards of the lands and waters they control – have ceded the title “conservationist” to their critics.
A preservationist advocates allowing some places and some creatures to exist without significant human interference. Most people accept the idea that conservation encompasses setting aside certain areas as parks and protecting certain species without harvesting them. The divisive issues are: how many and which areas, and which species. Many resource users believe that enough areas have already been closed to economic use, and they use “preservationist” as a negative term for people they consider to be extremists. Ironically, in the case of some set asides, like marine reserves, their preservation boosts fish harvests in surrounding areas. Nevertheless, because of this pejorative use, relatively few people call themselves preservationists. People who find themselves labeled preservationists by others usually prefer to think of preservation as just one plank in their platform as conservationists.
An environmentalist is someone who is concerned about the impact of people on environmental quality in general. Air and water pollution are often the proximate concerns; human overpopulation and wasteful use of resources are the ultimate issues. There is enormous overlap between environmentalists and conservationists. Many environmentalists would say that environmentalism encompasses conservation, while many conservationists would say the reverse. The difference is a matter of emphasis. By focusing on air and water pollution and their root causes, environmentalists often emphasize urban, suburban, and agricultural situations where human‐induced problems and human well‐being are paramount. Because conservationists focus on natural resource use, they tend to emphasize the rural areas and wildlands where natural resources are most abundant, as well as associated ecosystems and organisms, including people who might live there.
Traditionally, an ecologist is a scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments. However, in the 1970s when concern for the environment first bloomed widely around the planet, the term developed a second meaning when the public failed to distinguish between environmentalists (activists) and the scientists (ecologists) who provided the scientific basis for the environmental movement. Now “ecologist” is often used in the popular press as a synonym for “environmentalist.” Given this, a broader definition of an ecologist is a person who is concerned about the relationships between organisms (including people) and their environments.
Recently, these distinctions have become controversial and fuzzy, following a call for a “new conservation” that focuses on the benefits that nature provides for people (Kareiva and Marvier 2012) and the ways that people and nature depend on one another. This “conservation for people” movement is controversial because other people believe that conservation should also recognize the intrinsic value of nature (see next section). It is fuzzy because people on both sides of the argument have lost sight of the fact that the origins of conservation (also see next section) were largely centered on human welfare (Hunter et al. 2014).
In summary, ever‐evolving attitudes and perceptions are at the root of the confusion over who are conservationists, preservationists, environmentalists, and ecologists; each term persists because it has some utility in describing the diverse ways people interact with their environment.

A Brief History of Conservation

The roots of conservation are lost in prehistory (Fig. 1.1). No doubt there was a time when human reason, growing ever more sophisticated through the millennia, began to extend the idea of deferred gratification (“save this fruit to eat tomorrow rather than now”) over much longer periods. Keep in mind that for 99% of our history as a species we were living in small, self‐regulating g...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Fundamentals of Conservation Biology
APA 6 Citation
Hunter, M., Gibbs, J., & Popescu, V. (2021). Fundamentals of Conservation Biology (4th ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Hunter, Malcolm, James Gibbs, and Viorel Popescu. (2021) 2021. Fundamentals of Conservation Biology. 4th ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Hunter, M., Gibbs, J. and Popescu, V. (2021) Fundamentals of Conservation Biology. 4th edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Hunter, Malcolm, James Gibbs, and Viorel Popescu. Fundamentals of Conservation Biology. 4th ed. Wiley, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.