Maintaining biodiversity

Endangered species

An endangered species is at risk of becoming extinct. For example, the panda and gorilla are endangered and may become extinct. A species can become endangered for several reasons, including:

  • the number of available habitats falls below a critical level
  • the population of the species falls below a critical level

For example, the South African quagga was a type of zebra that became extinct because of hunting. The last wild quagga was shot in the late 1870s. However, a lone female quagga later died in a zoo in Amsterdam in 1883, the last of her species.

Engraving of a an extinct quagga, a South African mammal of the horse family
A quagga

A species may even be at risk of becoming extinct if there is not enough genetic variation in the population. This can happen even if the population is still quite large.

Biodiversity

Biodiversity means having as wide a range of different species in an ecosystem as possible. It is important to conserve the variety of living organisms on Earth. Not only do we have moral and cultural reasons for conserving endangered species, but conservation:

  • maintains the future possibility that plant species might be identified for medicines
  • keeps damage to food chains and food webs to a minimum
  • protects our future food supply

Conservation measures

Some species in Britain are endangered, including the skylark, red squirrel and grass snake. They could be helped by conservation measures such as:

  • education programmes
  • captive breeding programmes
  • legal protection and protection of their habitats
  • making artificial ecosystems for them to live in

Plant species can also be endangered. Seed banks are a conservation measure for plants. Seeds are carefully stored so that new plants may be grown in the future.

Seed banks are an example of a gene bank. Gene banks are increasingly being used to preserve genetic material for use in the future. A cryobank is another type of gene bank. Embryos, sperm or eggs are stored at very low temperatures in liquid nitrogen (which is at a very chilly –196 °C). They can be thawed out later for use in breeding programmes.

Nicola Hallot from Knowsley Safari Park talks about the endangered animals at Knowsley including Père David’s deer, Bactrian camel and scimitar-horned oryx. She also explains how zoos and safari parks across Europe work together to maintain biodiversity.

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