Conservation Biology: A deeper look into its guiding concepts.

Cheetah cubs. Photo by Smithsonian's National Zoo |

As readers, we often have a general understanding of concepts relating to biodiversity and conservation biology. We know that anthropogenic extinctions are often bad things. We know that restoring a species back to sustainable population sizes is beneficial to many ecosystems. Today, I’ll take you one step further, and provide some dinner-table conversation for what is of the utmost importance when talking about the conservation of species.

An essay published by Conservation Biology in December 2010 does an excellent job of outlining the guiding concepts needed for a sustainable future full of biodiversity. David Lindenmayer from The Australian National University, and Malcolm Hunter from the University of Maine, discuss these concepts while opening the floor for discussion about their ideas. Some of their concepts are as follows:


1)   “Successful conservation management requires achievement of consensus on explicit goals and objectives.” Sometimes, conservation goals are made without taking into account all of the social, political, and economic barriers in mind. Clearly, programs won’t work (or be efficient enough) if we don’t take these into account. Additionally, we often don’t make our goals specific enough. Saying that we will “increase biodiversity” doesn’t mean much, but saying that we want to “increase species richness and evenness by 20%” provides much more solid framework.

2)   “The overall goal of biodiversity management will usually be to maintain or restore biodiversity, not to maximize species richness.” This can lead to problems, because many plans use species richness, or how many species there are in an area, as their only measure of biodiversity. But there are other things to consider, too (abundance of a particular species, or how well the species is distributed in an area, are also important to consider). We can’t limit ourselves to measure biodiversity in one way – or else we won’t get the story right.

3)   “A holistic approach is needed to solve conservation problems.” Biodiversity isn’t a one-scale problem. We can look at species from a community scale, to a regional or global scale – and we should use all of these scales to assess the problem. If we don’t, we’ll miss the big picture and won’t understand problems to the extent we need to in order to make sound decisions.

4)   “Human values are diverse and dynamic and significantly shape conservation efforts.” In order to appropriately address concerns about species losses, extinctions, and other ecological issues, we need to remember that human activities and value are a crucial piece of the puzzle. We also need to know that our needs and values will change, which will affect how we manage policies and procedures in the future. 


If you’d like to add to the discussion, the authors have set-up an online forum here. Feel free to contribute and have your say on the issues in conservation biology!