Biodiversity Research

Biodiversity is studied at the level of populations, of individuals (including molecular biology), and in the interactions between organisms and their environment. Research on biodiversity includes genetic, ecological, and behavioral studies and investigations focusing on diseases and life histories.

Natural Selection Steps

Loss of habitat, often through clearcuttingforests, is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity today. Many territorial animals require large ranges, and breaking up forest space (habitat fragmentation) is as destructive as cutting down the whole forest would be. (PhotoDisc)

Much of the work on any specific species, especially large vertebrates, is conducted in the field, using techniques for observing, counting, tracking, and monitoring the population. Most invertebrates cannot be studied other than by observation and counting. One of the goals of ecological research on biodiversity is to understand the life histories and ecology of individual species. Scientists seek to explain life span, reproductive patterns and strategies, food preferences, environmental requirements, and limits. Other major goals are to describe the habitat requirements and better understand the relationship between the species and the habitat.

The management and legal aspects of various programs are included in biodiversity studies. This research is closely related to the field of conservation biology. Such study entails examin ing areas such as how programs work; what money is spent, by whom, how, and for what use; whether habitats or species are protected, restored, or lost; and the time required for various activities. These considerations are generally part of program evaluation, a topic that can be more thoroughly researched in the field of management science. The legal aspects of preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species have been studied by a number of legal and policy-making organizations, including the Environmental Law Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, both of Washington, D.C. The National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences has published a number of reports on the Endangered Species Act, and these usually address legal, policy, and science issues.

Modern molecular genetic techniques are applied to the study of individual species of plants and animals and their restoration. Tissue, often a blood sample, taken from a single individual is analyzed to determine the genetic relations among members of a population. Scientists may then assess the potential of the remaining individuals to act as the beginning or nucleus for a new population. Modern techniques can determine the genetic makeup of animals and whether the individuals are distantly enough related to form a breeding pair without suffering the adverse consequences of inbreeding.

Artificial breeding and culture are techniques often employed with the few remaining members of a population. These animals may be brought in from the wild and confined, as were the last remaining California condors. The animals are kept in captivity so that artificial breeding and maintenance techniques can be used to raise additional members of the population. Once the population is large enough for release or other factors are favorable, reintroduction into the wild may be attempted.

Zoological parks and botanical gardens have been involved in maintaining the few remaining specimens of some species. With the help of such facilities, animal tissue has been stored in culture, and sperm have been frozen for later use in breeding. Parks and gardens now play an active role in species propagation and husbandry through breeding, nourishment programs, studying and preventing disease, and behavioral training to re-introduce zoo animals into the wild.

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