Applied Ecology/The Endangered Resources
In the second half of the 20th century the pace of growth of the world population and its technological capacity to utilise natural resources increased to such a degree that human activity now impinges on all segments of the biosphere. As the scale of habitat destruction has multiplied so have human efforts for the remainder to be vigilantly protected by applying ecological principles to safeguard, legislate, evaluate and manage fragile ecosystems and their declining species.
Conservation on a global scale may be approached either through organisations that focus on its rare and endangered species or through the work of others that highlight the world's 'fragile' habitats. The international bodies that illustrate these two complementary approaches are the World Conservation Union and UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere programme.
The World Conservation Union (http://www.iucn.org/) began as the International Union for the Protection of Nature (or IUPN) founded in October 1948 following an international conference in Fontainebleau, France. The organization changed its name to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1956 and became the "World Conservation Union" began in 1990. The full name and the acronym are often used together as many people still know the Union as IUCN
The theme of 'man and the biosphere' became an international concern in 1972 with the launch of UNESCO's programme of environmental research. It is an interdisciplinary undertaking of environmental research initiated to develop the basis, within the natural and social sciences, for the rational use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere, and for the improvement of the global relationship between people and the environment. The hallmark of the MAB Programme is its holistic and interdisciplinary approach. Examination of human impacts on a specific ecosystem - that is, the interrelationship between people and the environment - requires studies of both the natural sciences (e.g. climatology, biology, soil sciences and forestry) and the social sciences (e.g. economics, human geography and sociology). Hence, the name of the programme: "Man and the Biosphere" or 'MAB'(http://www.unesco.org/mab/).
The World Conservation Union is probably best known for monitoring the state of the world's species through the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But it also supports and develops conservation science; implements this research in field projects around the world; and then links both research and results to local, national, regional and global policy by convening dialogues between governments, civil society and the private sector.
The priority of the Union's current Programme (2005-2008) is to build recognition of the many ways in which human lives and livelihoods, especially of the poor, depend on the sustainable management of natural resources. In its projects, the Union applies sound ecosystem management to conserve biodiversity and builds sustainable livelihoods for those directly dependent on natural resources. The Union is actively engaged in managing and restoring ecosystems and improving people's lives, economies and societies.
The Union's databases, assessments, guidelines and case studies, prepared by its global membership, Commissions and Secretariat, are among the world's most respected and frequently cited sources of information and reference on the environment.
As the world's largest environmental knowledge network, the Union has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union also has the official status of Observer at the United Nations General Assembly.
UNESCOs MAB programme uses an applied ecological approach that focuses on mountain ecosystems, on arid lands or on humid tropical forests. Shortly after the programme was launched in April 1973, a panel of experts met in Salzburg, Austria, to discuss the "Impact of human activities on mountain and tundra ecosystems". Its task was to elaborate the scientific content of projects to be proposed under the MAB Programme. The panel recommended study of the following factors:
- human settlements at high altitudes;
- effects of land-use alternatives on mountain ecosystems;
- impact of large-scale technology on mountain ecosystems;
- effects of tourism and recreation on mountain ecosystems.
A working group assembled in Lillehammer, Norway, later in 1973 to define further the scope, objectives, methodologies and possible outputs of studies in areas where problems were acknowledged. This meeting led to a more clearly defined identification of thematic and regional problems requiring study, as follows:
- resource development and human settlements in high tropical mountains (i.e. above 2 500 us and between the latitudes 30° north and 30° south), including the tropical Andes, the South Asia mountain complexes and the East African and Ethiopian highlands;
- tourism, technology and land use in temperate mountains in the middle latitudes (approximately latitudes 30° to 60° north and south), where there are distinct winter and summer seasons;
- land-use problems in high-latitude mountain and tundra ecosystems, with special reference to grazing, industrial development and recreation.
In order that study methods and results could be compared, the working group in Lillehammer identified tentative "minimal" research requirements for both natural sciences (e.g. climatology and soil sciences) and social sciences (e.g. sociology and economics). It was considered vital that the results of regional mountain studies in one area could be compared with those elsewhere in an international context.
The variables identified for study in mountain areas may appear obvious and simplistic - air temperature, precipitation and wind velocity, for example, in climatic studies. Nevertheless, considerable efforts were made to achieve international agreement on a uniform and consistent methodology for research on mountain ecosystems within the framework of an intergovernmental scientific programme. Conceptually, the establishment of this catalogue of minimal research requirements was an important step forward in international cooperative research. As a consequence, a large number of case studies were carried out worldwide within the framework of the MAB Programme, in particular in the Andes and the Alps.
In the early 1990s, the MAB Programme entered into a new phase following the decision of its governing body, the MAB International Co-ordinating Council. The three new major thrusts are: scientific capacity building, research on biological diversity and ecological processes, and promoting the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The third undertaking proved to be particularly successful and there are currently 352 biosphere reserves in 87 countries; of these, over 40 percent are located in mountain regions.
Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems where, through appropriate zoning patterns and land management, the conservation of ecosystems and their biodiversity is combined with the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of local communities. Thus, they represent a major tool for implementing the concerns of Agenda 21 (such as Chapter 13 on mountains), the Convention on Biological Diversity and other international agreements.
The concept of "biosphere reserve" implies environmental conservation, scientific research and sustainable development. The management of biosphere reserves aims to show that environmental conservation can be used to promote sustainable development based on scientific research findings together with a partnership with the local people. This is realized through a specific land-use system, which takes into account the topographic, biological, economic and socio-cultural characteristics of each site.
Biosphere reserves have three different, but interrelated, functions:
- Biosphere reserves provide protection of indigenous genetic resources, plant and animal species, ecosystems and landscapes of value for the conservation of the world's biological diversity.
- Biosphere reserves seek to combine conservation concerns with sustainable use of resources through close cooperation with local communities, taking advantage of traditional knowledge, indigenous products and appropriate land management.
- Biosphere reserves are linked through a global network; they provide facilities for research, monitoring, education and training at the local level as well as for comparative research and monitoring programmes at an international or regional level.
While the relative importance of these three basic functions will vary from case to case, it is a combination of their roles that characterizes the distinctive feature of biosphere reserves. The articulation of these roles is translated on the ground through a pattern of zonation. This includes a core area (or areas) that is strictly protected according to pre-established conservation objectives. The core area is surrounded by, or contiguous with, a delineated buffer zone (or zones) where only activities that are compatible with the conservation objectives can take place. Finally, a more loosely defined transition area encircles the core and buffer areas and here cooperation with the local population and sustainable resource management practices are developed.
At the heart of the international community's interactions with the global environment, particularly through actions mandated by two World Environment Summits, is the United Nationals Environment Programme (UNEP (http://www.unep.org/)) Biodiversity information for policy and action to conserve the living world is provided by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. Its programmes concentrate on species, forests, protected areas, marine, mountains and freshwaters; plus habitats affected by climate change such as Polar Regions. It also address the relationship between trade and the environment and the wider aspects of biodiversity assessment.(http://www.unep-wcmc.org/)
Between them, MAB the WCU and the WCMC, are well placed to provide answers to questions about the state of major international habitats and rare species.
This module is intended to describe some of the protected sites and species of major international importance with respect to the following three questions about their state as an endangered resource:
- What is happening?
- What is being done?
- What should be done?