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AlexTD
[Do We Need Pandas?] Overall Opinions

So the webinar for our final book is coming up next week (on May 9th, register here), and I wanted to see what others' opinions of the book were.

Personally, I found the background on what biodiversity is and what seems to affect it at least as interesting as how we should go about preserving it. Partly this is because engineers never get taught anything about ecology (or at least I didn't), and so it's this missing hole in my sustainability education.

I think I found the idea that we should aim to preserve whole ecosystems unsurprising - systems are much more resilient, and will often tend to take care of themselves above some critical point. That ecosystems are in that vein does not surprise me. However, building on some of the ideas near the end, it would seem that the Endangered Species Act aims at exactly the wrong types of protection. I find the concept that it takes the 'wrong' approach but ends up with reasonable results very curious. 

What are your thoughts?

R2Walker
"However, building on some of

"However, building on some of the ideas near the end, it would seem that the Endangered Species Act aims at exactly the wrong types of protection. I find the concept that it takes the 'wrong' approach but ends up with reasonable results very curious."
 
Well, preserving an ecosystem would require preserving some of its species, right? The Endangered Species Act is probably accidently targeting some key species in various ecosystems b/c they're endangered.

AlexTD
That's actually one of the

That's actually one of the things I found most interesting - he points out that most species are rare, and that most rare species aren't critical to the functioning of ecosystems. The ESA aims to protect specific rare species, even when people don't think much of them (see: smelt), and as a consequence saves land from being developed. I think it's hard to accidentally target key species. 
 
That being said, the ESA doesn't take into account a need for holistic ecosystems, so it's entirely possible that many of the species whose area it has preserved may die anyway (at least, based on the research discussed in the book). Very curious stuff. 
 
(Edit: ESW/ESA mixup)

robbest
The argument has consistently

The argument has consistently gone that protecting large species with large ranges per individual or that are key to an ecosystem will also protect those that either we don't know about or don't have a good way of understanding their status. The ESA itself was not meant to protect entire ecosystems directly, sure, but through this belief can protect whole ecosystems. The ESA, like many environmental policies, is very broad though. It leaves open a lot of questions for lawmakers and regulators to decide. For instance, you cannot harm the individuals of a species or their known breeding areas. In the US, in one case, regulators have decided this means you cannot develop within 150 feet of a bald eagle nest (correct me if the number is wrong...). These numbers or what constitutes damage to an endangered species often is arbitrary. The research in this book shows the need for understanding real limits (the long term forest ecology experiment described on fragmentation, for instance).

As a primer in biodiversity, the book is excellent. I find it unfortunate that biodiversity and environmental policy/ecology or so rarely taught in engineering programs (especially those with a focus on sustainability). Engineers need to know the impact of their work on biodiversity and ecosystems (for instance, pollution in the Yellow River and the decline and extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin).