The planet we call home is a colorful place teeming with life of every kind. This variety of species is called biodiversity, and it is important to humanity for many reasons. Biodiversity of pollinators, plants, and soil increases the amount of food we can produce, and plant and animal research is a key to discovering new medical treatments.
Extinction of species is a natural process. Some species survive in the wild while some die out. This happens because of natural disasters or diseases. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, the increase in human activity has drastically shortened the amount of time it takes for species to become endangered or extinct. When a species is labeled as “endangered,” it means that it is at risk of being completely wiped off the planet.
One of the major causes for animal extinction is loss of habitat, which can occur when humans move in to develop land. While humans need space to build homes and shops, it is important to remember that the planet does not solely belong to us. Earth is estimated to be home to over 100 million different species, according to the National Wildlife Federation, and their lives deserve protection, too. Other human-related causes for endangerment and extinction include air and plastic pollution, overuse of pesticides and other poisons, and the building of highways.
Because plants and animals within an ecosystem deeply depend on one another, unexpected environmental changes may occur with the loss of a single species. All life has value, and the following species are just a few that need protection in order to remain alive and flourishing.
Peninsular bighorn sheep
A native species to California and Mexico, the Peninsular bighorn sheep is the official animal of San Diego. Despite its recognition in the city, the species has experienced severe decline in population numbers. According to the Nature Conservancy, the population decreased from around 20 million in the early 20th century[sc:1] to only 875 today.
In the United States, the Woodland Caribou is known to reside in the South Selkirk Mountains of Washington and Idaho. Currently, a herd of less than 40 animals is known to live in the South Selkirk Mountains[sc:2].
While this species is listed as occurring throughout most of the Eastern United States, recent surveys have indicated a drop in population counts. This little bird, with its black and white striped tail feathers, has been known to fly as far as Argentina during winter migration[sc:3].
The largest seabird in the North Pacific, the Short-tailed Albatross sports a unique bubblegum-pink bill and a wingspan of over two meters. They are known to mate for life and lay a single egg each breeding season. Human-related threats include fishing line entanglement, plastic ingestion, and oil spills[sc:4].
This large wild cat used to be found in Florida, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast states, but today, it is only found in Florida. There are currently less than 100 Florida Panthers surviving in the wild, and the population continues to decline due to habitat loss, Mercury pollution, and increased building of highways[sc:5].
These highly intelligent creatures use a number of vocalizations, referred to as “songs,” in order to communicate with one another. Their family units are close knit, and they are known to travel in pods with up to a dozen whales. According to the Marine Mammal Association, only about 10% of the original population still exists.
This small quail was originally found throughout Arizona and northern parts of Mexico, but today only 300 to 500 reside in captivity at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The population decline was likely caused by the overuse of land for cattle, which trampled their breeding grounds. The chance of their return is not fully bleak, however. According to the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center, the breeding flock at BANWR has the potential to bring the population back.
Mount Charleston Blue Butterfly
This small, blue and gray butterfly is one of the most endangered species of butterfly in the world. The species only resides in a small range of Mount Charleston. Luckily for the species, over 5,000 miles of land were designated as critical habitat, which doubles the likelihood of recovery for the population[sc:6].
Rock Gnome Lichen
[break/]According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this lichen can be found in areas of high elevation in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Its environment is threatened due to frequent trampling by unknowing hikers and climbers. It is also threatened by invasive bug species, housing developments, and deforestation.
Pitkin Marsh Lily
This brightly colored flower is found in Sonoma County, California, but its environment is threatened by many housing developments in the area. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also cites invasive species, changing water levels, erosion, and global climate change as threats to this beautiful plant[sc:7].
The plants and animals listed above are only a small percentage of the many species at risk of extinction today, but everyone can do something to help protect biodiversity on Earth. By remembering that all living beings share this planet, each person act responsibly by refusing to litter and being mindful of pollution. Together, we can also take a stand against the over development of animal habitats by calling for more protected land, which can remain wild and untouched by human hands. A diverse planet is a more beautiful, colorful, and healthy place to be, and it is humanity’s responsibility to keep it that way.