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Conserving nature at regional and continental scales: A conservation biology program for the new millennium.

abstract1 (full description below): 1999. Bioscience 49: 809-817.
Conserving nature. PDF/Acrobat file     M.E. SoulĂ© and J. Terborgh.

With the closing of the frontier a century ago, visionaries such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt's sought to ensure the preservation of samples of the most monumental and scenic landscapes of wild America-its grandest vistas and most impressive creatures. As the twentieth century unfolded, however, and as the science of ecology developed, conservation biologists such as Victor Shelford recognized another conservation imperative: the need to protect less spectacular but biologically richer habitats, such as marshes and prairies. The national parks, wildlife refuges, nature reserves, and wilderness areas that today cover approximately 4 percent of the land area of the United States represent the legacy of these two distinct but complementary traditions of nature protection. Now, as the end of the century approaches, ecologists are documenting unprecedented worldwide habitat conversion driven by rapidly expanding human populations, powerful technologies, and irresistible economic incentives, including the relaxation of international trade barriers. The accelerated conversion of wildlands to croplands, pastures, tree plantations, and sprawling cities; the mechanized exploitation of natural resources, such as fresh water, forage, timber, and minerals; and the quiet invasion of alien species that is exacerbated by habitat degradation threaten to produce an unprecedented wave of extinctions-a wave that could sweep away as many as half the earth's plant and animal species (Ehrlich and Wilson 1991).