Week 9: Biodiversity Loss Through Extinctions in Arid Zones

The process of an endangered species reaching a point of extinction is an environmental tragedy that has potential to devastate biodiversity through the destruction of an entire ecosystem. In Living in the Environment, describes endangered species as “ecological smoke alarms”. This is an extremely effective analogy as it forms a powerful picture. The reality is that the extinction of a species is not just a tragedy for biodiversity because of the loss of that particular species. It is a tragedy for biodiversity because it has the potential to wreak havoc on populations of a plethora of species. There is no limit to the impact the extinction of a certain species can have on complete ecosystems. The reality is that even if a species has not reached a point of full extinction, functional extinction can result in widespread harm to ecosystems through a loss of interaction. As the prevalence of a specific species decreases, so do the interactions between it and other species that depend on it for prey or predation. This situation has been seen time and time again in arid zones such as the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. In the United States, the Sonoran Desert stretches from California to Arizona. I had the chance to travel through the Sonoran Desert in Spring, 2019. As someone who is fascinated with desert environments and the flora and fauna that inhabit the landscape, it was memorable to see the sheer size and beauty of the Sonoran up close. At the same time, I had become aware of the significant challenges that some of the creatures who inhabit the desert have faced. These issues will continue to become even more destructive if the attack on natural resources and the environment is allowed to persist. In the case of the Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as the Canis lupus baileyi, the species has been under constant attack for decades. The Mexican Gray Wolf has fallen victim to the organized actions of humans. A calculated campaign against the species was aided by the U.S government in order to boost the profits of the agricultural economy. Members of the species have been attacked in a widely inhumane and unethical manner, with the population being devastated intentionally. The Center for Biological Diversity stated that there were 113 adult Mexican Gray Wolves left in the wild during 2016. This is a result of population control tactics that include extreme poisoning and trapping. The effects of these actions have been felt not only by the species, but also by the ecosystems it played a pivotal role in. The role the wolves play as a keystone species can not be overstated. They are absolutely critical to the ecosystems they inhabit. This relationship is well documented, and has been heavily documented throughout Yellowstone National Park in the case of the Grey Wolf species native to the area. According to Earthjustice, “The loss of the linchpin predator disrupted food webs and set off a phenomenon called a ‘trophic cascade,’ in which the wolves’ natural pretty (in this case, elk) multiplied and consumed unsustainable amounts of native vegetation”. In the Sonoran Desert and the surrounding climates, Mexican Gray Wolves also prey on elk.

(Comparison of wolf population sizes since attempts at reintroduction have been mounted)

There is a parallel that can be drawn between the two species of wolf detailed. This is an environmental issue that has been exacerbated and enabled by the U.S Government as a result of its commitment to the livestock industry rather than native wildlife and the sustainability of biodiversity. This is a disturbing reality that is cause for concern. Miller and Spoolman highlight the importance of treaties in laws and protecting vulnerable species, leading to future protection of the overall ecosystem. I am of the belief that this process is moving forward too slowly. The environmental studies community should make it a priority to influence those with political power to craft policy that protects specific species and regions. For example, it is crucial to strengthen protection of wildlife within the Sonoran Desert. Habitat destruction is moving further and further into the desert, impacting an increased number of ecosystems and casting their future into doubt. The Mexican Gray Wolf is just one of many species that have fallen victim to the greed of the United States Government and the industries it props up. My trip through the Sonoran Desert was one of mixed emotions. I feel great pride and joy in the beauty and vast nature of the desert, while also being filled with significant fear for the protection of biodiversity within its boundaries.

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Question: Should the U.S Government be involved in efforts to reintroduce species it previously decimated, or is this an endeavor better undertaken by wildlife and environmental organizations?

References:

Spoolman, Scott, and G. Miller. 2016. Living in the Environment. 19th ed. Mason, OH: CENGAGE Learning Custom Publishing.

Taylor, Meredith. “Mexican Gray Wolf: What You Need To Know.” Earthjustice, 29 June 2020, earthjustice.org/features/mexican-gray-wolf-what-you-need-to-know#4.

“Mexican Gray Wolf Natural History.” Center for Biological Diversity, biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/Mexican_gray_wolf/natural_history.html.