The field of conservation biology has been formally recognized for 10, 15, or 20 or more years, depending on how one identifies its beginning (Ehrenfeld 1970; Soulé and Wilcox 1980; Soulé 1986). Regardless of which date we accept, the field has existed for a short time, yet it has had profound and far-reaching effects on the science and management of biodiversity, effects that are well out of proportion to its youthful existence. These influences, some of which I will discuss here, imply that the development of the field of conservation biology was nearly inevitable and perhaps overdue. It brought together and motivated large numbers of scientists of varied description and inclination to address, in a highly pluralistic manner, the problem of the greatest loss of biological diversity in 65 million years. It continues to do so, with some degree of success, although history must be the final judge of its efficacy. I will discuss the field of conservation biology and its contributions to the preservation of biodiversity, identify its areas of weakness, and suggest directions in which the field should go. Much of this material is opinionmy personal assessment of the fieldand little more. It should not be misconstrued as a comprehensive attempt to critically assess the field; that task remains for future analysts.
I begin with a general (and admittedly superficial) description of the field; moredetailed treatments are available in many other sources. I offer the definition of conservation biology I have used before (Meffe and Can-oil 1997):