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Why should we save endangered species?

We invest money, time and effort into saving endangered species, but whats the point? Extinction is a natural process that would happen with or without us. However while that is the case, it is happening much quicker now than ever before and we humans are the lead cause.

The importance of balance

The health of an ecosystem is maintained by its plants and animals, they are the foundation of the ecosystem. When species become endangered, it is a sign of an ecosystem’s imbalance causing it to slowly fall apart.

This balance is difficult to maintain: the loss of one species often triggers the loss of others. An example of this is when grey wolves were hunted to near-extinction in Yellowstone National Park, beaver populations also decreased considerably. This is because elk, without the wolf as its predator, grazed more heavily on plants needed by beavers for winter survival.

Every plant and animal in our world is part of a wider network of species, and it’s hard to separate them from it. Loosing one of these species might not have much of an effect, or it could cause a chain reaction that disrupts the entire ecosystem. It’s too difficult to predict the effect of killing off a species until its been killed, and then its too late.

So by choosing to save an animal or plant, by extension we are also choosing to preserve it’s habitat and the majority of species that live along side them. Ecologists have also gathered large amounts of evidence that show ecosystems with a wider range of species are more stable and less prone to unexpected die-backs. So even the smallest obscure creature might not be doing something obviously useful but it is most likely supporting the ecosystem that it lives in and that ecosystem will be providing important services.

How does it affect us?

Humans depend on a healthy, well-balanced ecosystems as they are essential to the purity of the environment. Without healthy grasslands, forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems, we wouldn’t have clean air to breathe, a healthy water system to support diverse marine life, and arable land for agricultural production. If we allow for our environment to become contaminated we ultimately risk our own health.

Our ecosystems also provides us with unique plants with medicinal properties, which serve as the foundation of our medicines. Therefore the extinction of plants and animals takes with it the potential for new cures and drugs that we haven’t discover yet.

Additionally many of our crop plants rely on insects to produce seeds, and would not survive – let alone provide us with food – without them. This is why the decline in pollinating insects has provoked so much concern. Bees may appear small and insignificant but they play a massive part in our ecosystem and without them many plant species would go extinct, which would upset the entire food-chain.

When ecosystems fail, our own health is at risk. When saving endangered species, we are ultimately saving ourselves.

Economic Impact

Now lets talk economics, even though our ecosystems are priceless, conserving nature is an extremely good investment. In 1997, ecologist Robert Constanza and his colleagues estimated that the biosphere provides services worth around $33 trillion a year. For comparison, they noted that the entire global economy at the time produced around $18 trillion a year. In 2002 the team advanced this argument by looking into how much we’d gain by conserving biodiversity. The conclusion was that the benefits would outweigh the costs by a factor of 100. While on the contrary, allowing species to fall and go extinct would have a very negative effect. A study conducted in 2010 determined that 18% would be knocked off the global economic output by 2050 due to unchecked species loss.

And if all of this isn’t good enough for you, how about the fact that nature is beautiful and deserves respect and that aesthetic value alone is a good enough reason to keep it, just like we preserve great art like the Mona Lisa?! Once a species goes extinct they are no longer around for us or future generations to see and appreciate.

Whether you put it into economic terms or not, the science is clear that healthy ecosystems provide us with so many things that we can’t do without and the more diverse they are, the better. So for our own welfare, in terms of both practical things like food and water and less physical needs like beauty, we should do all we can to protect endangered species and continually look to maintain the health of our ecosystems on the planet we call home. Human society and wild ecosystems are all one, we are in this together, lets all help one another.  

(Sources: GVI, BBC Earth, One Kind Planet)

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