The Effects of Endangered Species
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Endangered species live all around you. You likely have endangered plants, animals or insects right in your backyard. All around you, you see images of those larger endangered predators, like tigers, rhinos and elephants.
Perhaps you feel bad for them, but that is the extent of how much you think about the effects of endangered species. However, if they disappear, your life may change drastically. As more and more species are put on the endangered list, their risk of extinction rises, and the whole world can change.
The consequences of human actions that have primarily led species to the point of near extinction affect you in more ways than you are aware.
What is an endangered species, anyways? An endangered species is considered any animal or plant in danger of disappearing entirely from this planet. There are varying endangerment levels, but if an animal or plant is on the endangered list, there should be efforts to protect them.
Various circumstances can cause a species to be endangered, such as:
- Habitat Loss: This is one of the primary causes of endangerment. Whether humans clear out a forest or a natural disaster strikes, habitat loss significantly impacts species. Plants and animals rely on their habitat for survival, so any damage or loss can cause them to die.
- Human Exploitation: Unfortunately, humans often use rare animals or plants for exploitation to make money. Examples of this are ivory from elephants and horns from rhinoceros.
- Natural Competition: It’s typical for plants and animals to compete with one another, whether for food, water or habitat. If a species dominates another, the weaker species may become endangered.
- Displacement: This is similar to habitat loss. If a natural disaster strikes or human activity is causing a disturbance within a habitat, species may try to move to a new location. Often, the species may not be able to adapt to the change well enough to survive.
- Disease: Disease affects plants and animals just like it does humans. Think about COVID-19 — it has unfortunately affected a large portion of the human population. The same happens when disease strikes a species.
- Invasive Species: Invasive species are those that are not native to an ecosystem. When introduced, invasive species take over the habitat and can cause survival challenges for the native species.
There are other contributing factors to a species becoming endangered, but these are some of the most common.
What Happens When Biodiversity Decreases
Biodiversity is quite literally the web of life. It connects everything together. As animal and plant species are added to the endangered list, biodiversity decreases, which puts human health and livelihood at risk, as well as the environment and the economy.
Effects on the Environment
Ecosystems are carefully balanced, with a hierarchy of prey and predators that keep populations in check. As species go extinct, they are taken out of the food chain. Animals that ate the newly-extinct species have to find new food sources or starve.
This can damage the populations of other plants or animals. Furthermore, if a predator goes extinct, its prey’s population can proliferate, unbalancing local ecosystems.
Effects on Humans
It’s unavoidable that humans share an ecosystem with endangered species. That means that when a population of a species is diminishing, human life will alter. For example, when the American Bison began to vanish, humans who relied on them for food or fur for warmth or trading suffered and had to rely on other sources of food and income.
Also, some animals act as a buffer for diseases. If one of these species were to be endangered, then the human would be more at risk for the disease. Other plants and animals are food sources for humans, so without them, food scarcity increases.
Effects on the Economy
The economy is reliant on certain species as well — an example of this is the endangered honey bee. Bee populations have dwindled in recent years, with a reduction of over 60% in the U.S. since 1947.
Bees pollinate many plant species, including multiple plants that compose much of an average human diet. Bee pollination is highly valuable to the U.S. Agricultural Department, bringing billions of dollars every year to the economy.
Endangered Species Act
Fortunately, in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed to protect those species on the brink of extinction. It covers both domestic and international endangered species.
It aims to conserve and protect both endangered species and their habitats. States are provided with financial assistance and incentives to create and maintain conservation initiatives, like programs and other learning opportunities.
Endangered Species are Essential
Without the conservation of endangered species, the world would be at risk for severe damage and trouble. The more species that go extinct, the lower the biodiversity. By being educated about the endangered species in your region and supporting conservation efforts, you’re helping the planet.
About the author
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.