distribution of water through channelization and impoundment of flowing waters, and the draining of some wetlands and the flooding of others, destroys undeveloped habitat areas. Activities as seemingly benign as the planting of exotic trees and shrubs in parks and along byways or the conversion of open space to golf courses disrupt the distribution of natural components of biological diversity. These activities combine to decrease, habitat area and disturb the equilibrium between extinction and immigration among remaining natural habitats, with the frequent result that some species are permanently lost.

Decreases in local biological diversity resulting from losses of habitat area and insularization of habitat remnants are compounded by the more subtle effects of fragmentation. Losses of single, specific microhabitats within an otherwise undisturbed habitat can cause the local extinction of certain species. Disruption of even narrow corridors of natural habitat between large habitat patches can lead to losses of species. The removal of understory foliage in manicured park areas and suburban housing developments can result in the loss of numerous species, most conspicuously species of birds. Vast differences in temperature, humidity, light availability, and wind exposure exist between forest edges and interiors and affect habitat suitability for some species. In addition, losses of certain species due to any one or more causes can affect closely associated species sometimes leading ultimately to secondary extinction events (Wilcox and Murphy, 1985).

In light of these basic ecological facts, conservation of the full range of urban biological diversity necessitates the protection of the largest possible expanses of natural habitat. Yet, that simple prescription is usually impossible to fill in urban areas, where the forces acting to decrease the size of remaining natural habitats are greatest. These conflicting pressures interact to determine urban conservation policy and to force biologists to justify the sizes of biological preserves.

Economic and political considerations in urban areas make preservation particularly difficult. Land costs are high because of high demand, and the vast majority of urban space is private property. The few publicly owned open spaces are subject to intensive, varied uses, many of which are incompatible with preserving biological diversity. Local political institutions usually favor development over preservation, and many agencies concerned with land and resource management, such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, have no presence in urban areas. Many conservation organizations with largely urban memberships virtually limit their concern to nonurban environments, and those involved with local issues rarely have the resources available for protracted fights over development.

The Endangered Species Act with its mandate outlawing the “take” of any endangered species is the best tool for protecting biological diversity in urban areas of this country. Although the goal of the Act is protection of individual species of concern, its “purposes…are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend may be conserved” (USC, 1983, p. 1, §1531). Its strength resides in its ability to protect species regardless of land ownership.

Efforts to conserve the full extent of biological diversity by using the Endangered Species Act must target species that are most susceptible to habitat loss. The protection of extinction-prone species can be the key to facilitating the conservation

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement