After years of empty searches, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has just declared more than 20 species extinct. The list of extinct species has one plant, a bat, two fish, eight freshwater mussels, eleven birds. Moving these species from the ‘endangered species’ list to the ‘extinct’ list marks the end of official search efforts to find these creatures. One of the more popular birds, the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), is endemic to the United States southeast and Cuba. This beard has not had a confirmed siting in decades, and thus, some officials have concluded that the bird has died out entirely. There doesn’t appear to be a consensus on the matter; some believe that its premature to give up searching for Campephilus principalis.
Delaying the extinction declaration may be of instrumental value. Once a species has been deemed extinct, its likely that searches will cease completely, placing limits on conservation efforts, funding and incentives for further research on the species. However, this is not a sufficient reason to keep an unfruitful search going. Unfortunately, the conservation of one species (or even a few) is not enough to reverse the ecological alterations which contribute to extinctions. Ecological systems as a whole must be protected, not just select species within them.
The “Legendary” Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
The disappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker foreshadows the looming fate for species in wetlands around the world, as these ecological systems are especially sensitive to flooding, temperature fluctuations and drought. Extinctions can have several different causes. In some cases, the causes may be non-anthropological: changes in average temperatures or climate could make a species’ habitat unsuitable for reproduction. Another possibility, a disease eradicates the members of a species. That said, we can not rule out human activities as a possible proximate cause in the ivory-billed woodpeckers disappearance. If this is the case, environmental degradation would likely have been a driving force.
The destruction and logging of America’s forests have undoubtedly played an adverse role in the shrinking populations of Campephilus principalis. The ivory-billed woodpecker’s are known to inhabit forests with close access to water. The trees of wetlands are usually where they make their nests.
Wetlands are areas where water inundates land either seasonally or permanently. Wetlands exist in almost every landmass on Earth, and are characterized by the specialized type of vegetation that grows in wet soil. There are multiple kinds of wetlands, marine wetlands exist along coasts and are tolerant of saltwater. Marine wetlands differ from riverine wetlands, which have channels of water influenced by rivers or streams. Wetlands are hailed as nurseries for wildlife because of the vast amount of wildlife that mature wetland environments can support. The protection of wetland biodiversity is effectively the protection of many unique species of plants and animals (not to mention microorganisms) that dwell within them. Protecting these ecological systems will greatly enhance the odds of salvaging other types of organisms and protect the ecological services that they provide.