Saturday, May 19, 2007

How many endangered species are there?

While Endangered Species Day was officially yesterday, in today's world every day is an endangered species day, so I have another ESA themed post.

Last night a friend of mine asked a deceptively simply question: "I don't know if this is a stupid question or many endangered species are there?"

Not a stupid question at all, actually an extremely important question with a complicated answer.

Right now there are 369 animals and 593 plants listed as endangered under the ESA, and 217 more (plants and animals combined) are classified as threatened. BUT keep in mind tht these are just the ones that made it through all the political gauntlets to get listed (it is terrible to get a species approved, because it automatically restricts use of its habitat, which costs important people money, and that pisses them off). Also, that number is restricted to animals that live in the US.

There are 567 species classified as endangered in other countries, but since most of the areas with the most biodiversity also have the least stable governments and the least scientific funding, this is nowhere near the number that would be recognized/protected in an ideal world.

Also, note that a single species (under the US system) carries two ratings, one for global and one for state. For example, the red wolf is extinct in Alabama but endangered globally. A species can be locally common but very rare worldwide, like some fish that inhabit just a single pond in a single state.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the listed species in Minnesota (my friend's home state) for her, there are 16 (endangered unless noted otherwise):

American burying beetle
Bald eagle (Threatened)
Gray wolf
Karner blue butterfly
Eskimo curlew
Higgins eye pearly mussel
Canada lynx (Threatened)
Scaleshell mussel
Piping plover (listed as only threatened everywhere except the Great Lakes watershed, where it's endangered)
Topeka Shiner
Winged mapleleaf

Prairie bush-clover (threatened)
Minnesota dwarf trout lily
Western prairie fringed orchid (threatened)
Leedy's roseroot (threatened)

Not too bad, 16 is very low, my homestate of TN has 90 and AL has 117. This correlates to biodiversity, too, though, I'm not sure what percentage of species in each state is endangered. AL is number 5 in the nation for biodiversity (number 1 for aquatic animals!), so naturally there are more species that can potentially be listed. That doesn't save us from trouble, though, we're 2nd in the nation for extinction RATE, behind only Hawaii, which is a very bad thing.

One other note, botanists complain (justifiably) that plants are extremely neglected by the ESA. Considering there are tons and tons more plants than animals in the world, there are also many more endangered ones, but they usually fail to get the attention/support of animals. Face it, people care more about eagles than louseworts. Just thought I'd mention that, though, because it is an example of how numbers are easily skewed by politics and don't actually represent the status of things in nature.

So, a very good question but unfortunately no good answer.

The endangered Furbish lousewort

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