Recent growth in scientific knowledge has helped humanity comprehend the complex relationships in ecosystems and the devastating effects of human interference. As a result we have become increasingly aware of the need to protect and manage the ecosystems that we do have remaining for their utility, genetic, intrinsic and heritage values and also for the need to allow natural change and thus evolution to take place. Natural ecosystems have provided much that has been of benefit to humanity and with careful protection it can last for many more generations. Management strategies involving sustainable development, total preservation and the educating of the populace are becoming progressively more important in today’s society and for the protection of ecosystems. Ecosystems such as the Amazon basin with its rich biodiversity including swamps, mangroves, forests and savannah and coral reefs with their large biodiversity of fish species are under threat from development and are shrinking rapidly. Preservation of ecosystems is important as an insurance to keep the Earth suitable for human occupancy and is more valuable as a long term investment.
The utility value of an ecosystem is a particularly important factor regarding the importance of management and protection. Ecosystems prevent accumulation of waste, they help clean water and soil of pollutants, recycle vital chemical elements and conserve soil and water resources. Loss of biodiversity caused by humans may threaten the capacity of ecosystems to capture energy through photosynthesis, cycle nutrients and resist or adapt to the step functional change. They parts of the ecosystem are used by humans as medicines, pigments, fibres, poisons, chemicals, perfumes and food.
Over 25% of prescriptions in the USA contain drugs made form organisms and more that 40% of medicines contain a natural substance as an active ingredient and are worth over $US 40 Billion each year. In 80% of the world, the population still relies on traditional medicine as the main source of health care. Many new medicinal cures may be found in wild natural ecosystems such as the may-apple plant found in North America which can be used to treat testicular cancer and as technology advances, many plants and animals may be of use to us later. Other examples include the sea anemone which has recently been found to be an anti-coagulant and the gorgonian coral which is a prostaglandin and salmon and herring sperm which is a protamine, both for cardiovascular therapy.
Natural ecosystems are biochemical storehouses and will be of increasing importance as sources of complex molecules for food, manufactured goods, pesticides and waste disposal. Natural ecosystems help in catchment protection as they regulate water flow and contribute to maintaining water quality. Natural vegetation also inhibits erosion, sedimentation, pollution and helps regulate floods. Leaving natural vegetation undisturbed would save governments millions of dollars in flood regulation and in rebuilding river banks.
Ecosystems are in equilibrium and have their own way of maintaining stability, but humanity has disturbed this stability and continuously changed the ecosystem, making it almost impossible in most cases for the ecosystem to reach a new level of stability. With such instability it is very dangerous as many conditions may change and detrimentally affect mankind. Rainforests, for example, exert a considerable influence on climate and large areas such as the Amazon have moisture and energy budgets that influence global weather circulation patterns. Thus it is very important to ensure that we protect the ecosystems and correctly manage them.
Genetic diversity is another key factor to be taken into consideration for the management and protection of ecosystems. As ecosystems become more simplified due to lack of biodiversity, they become more prone to collapse and vulnerable to catastrophe, thus it is crucial to maintain genetic diversity and variation. With a large gene pool there is greater diversity and more availability for more desirable properties. As seen in numerous examples where wild varieties of species have been crossbred with cultivated varieties to obtain disease resistant or high crop yielding new varieties, without the genetic diversity available, none of it would be possible. In 1860’s the European vineyards were completely destroyed by phylloxera but later grafting with an American species led to a variety resistant to the disease. Also Indian rice was discovered to be resistant to two viruses and after implementation, led to an improved yield on 30million hectares in Asia. A single gene from a barley growing in Ethiopia protects the entire Californian barley crop worth $US 150million/yr from the yellow dwarf disease.
It can be seen that there are linked crossovers between reasons for management and the usefulness of ecosystems. Wild strains of species, many as of yet undiscovered, have desirable properties, such as disease resistance and increased crop yield, which tend to be lost in successive generations with selective breeding under artificial conditions. Natural ecosystems should be maintained so as new genes can be added from the wild populations to keep crops resistant to diseases which continue to develop new strains. The ecosystems also may yield new species of plants and animals suitable for use in cultivation and grazing. Examples include red deer, the loblolly pine and kiwi fruit that have recently been added to agriculture and forestry economic lists. The merino sheep variety is another example of where cross breeding, in this case between domestic sheep and wild sheep, has produced great economic value.
Natural ecosystems should be managed and protected also for the mere reason that the ecosystems have value in existing alone as a natural phenomenon. They have intrinsic value that is irreplaceable and most ecosystems are inherently useful. Large natural areas are and should be preserved so that future generations will be able to enjoy an experience without the trappings of civilisation. Heritage value has become an increasingly important for the protection of ecosystems. Heritage is about the protecting of an area as it provides an unique experience for people to enjoy and as it helps protect the most valuable plants and animals.
The formation of an increasing number of national parks and heritage areas, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kosciusko National Park and Uluru are prime examples of areas which are being protected for their intrinsic and heritage value. Heritage and intrinsic are very closely linked together, along with spiritual and philosophical values. The fact that every holiday people go on to the coast, mountains, islands to enjoy the beautiful scenery and animals. People pay thousands to go see the animals in their natural habitats instead of the zoo, thus we can see that ecosystems do have an intrinsic value that is appreciated by the populace.
One of the most important reasons for the protection and management of natural ecosystems is that natural change should be allowed. Evolution is one thing that we as humans should not interfere in, and is something we rely upon a great deal. New species evolve to cope with climatic change and other environmental alterations. One chief concern involves that with the increasing number of extinctions as a result of human interaction; there may not be an adequate base for evolution to occur at historical rates. Also to be considered is change at a short term basis, at a daily and annual rate. These interactions are very important, as they form the basis of the actual ecosystem, and usually the part which we, as humans, find most useful.
Wetlands, mangroves, swamps and marshes are some of the most valuable ecosystems as they on a day-to-day basis, control floods, filter water, cycle nutrients, recycle waste and are used as breeding grounds. Moreton Bay in Brisbane provides 8380 fish per yr per hectare, mangroves in Malaysia provide flood protection and control, compared to the construction of sea walls at $300 000/km and the wetlands in Calcutta and Vienna which clean the waste water are all examples where the ecosystems are being integrated into human activities and management. In the Murray basin farmers rely upon an Ibis which lives in the red gum to remove a pest which would otherwise cost them $675 000/yr. However if the red gums were to be removed then the ibis would have its habitat removed and would die out, thus it is important that all ecosystems are managed and protected adequately.
Natural ecosystems need to be protected and managed in a responsible manner so as to preserve their utility, genetic, intrinsic, heritage and evolutionary values. The sum of the parts of the ecosystem is not worth more than the whole and as such ecosystems need to be preserved as a whole and islandisation, which is occurring more and more needs to be avoided.
Humanity rely on ecosystems for their utility value and have been used for medicines for thousands of years, for their waste, water and soil cleaning abilities, for their flood protection capabilities and for their intrinsic and aesthetic appeal. Natural ecosystems are part of our lives and need to be effectively managed so as to ensure they remain undamaged, and to ensure that any damage done is immediately rectified. Sustainable development, total preservation and the educating of the populace are some of the most effective management policies and need to be enacted to manage and preserve our precious earth and its ecosystems.