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Threats to Biodiversity

6 April, 2016 - 17:26

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify significant threats to biodiversity
  • Explain the effects of habitat loss, exotic species, and hunting on biodiversity
  • Identify the early and predicted effects of climate change on biodiversity

The core threat to biodiversity on the planet, and therefore a threat to human welfare, is the combination of human population growth and the resources used by that population. The human population requires resources to survive and grow, and those resources are being removed unsustainably from the environment. The three greatest proximate threats to biodiversity are habitat loss, overharvesting, and introduction of exotic species. The first two of these are a direct result of human population growth and resource use. The third results from increased mobility and trade. A fourth major cause of extinction, anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, has not yet had a large impact, but it is predicted to become significant during this century. Global climate change is also a consequence of human population needs for energy and the use of fossil fuels to meet those needs (Figure 21.7). Environmental issues, such as toxic pollution, have specific targeted effects on species, but are not generally seen as threats at the magnitude of the others.

Figure 21.7 Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels fluctuate in a cyclical manner. However, the burning of fossil fuels in recent history has caused a dramatic increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, which have now reached levels never before seen on Earth. Scientists predict that the addition of this “greenhouse gas” to the atmosphere is resulting in climate change that will significantly impact biodiversity in the coming century.