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Biodiversity Conservation

Biodiversity Conservation

We interact with our environment in our everyday lives. We use our environment directly for leisure and its resources to fuel our cars and home. Using environmental resources to fuel cars heats homes, and we will produce a carbon footprint for others. Carbon footprint is the greenhouse emissions by an individual, a group of individuals or organisations etc.

You can calculate your carbon footprint online; plenty of websites and resources are available!

By leaving a carbon footprint and having other impacts such as deforestation to make furniture or habitat displacement and loss due to agricultural expansion. We must protect our environment to keep our world and health balanced and preserve it for future generations. This is what biodiversity conservation is.

Biodiversity: The variety of living organisms on Earth.

The history of biodiversity conservation

Biodiversity is an old concept, dating back to 2000 years ago in Greece. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, made observations on the physiology and behaviour of different animals. Back then, our impact was relatively negligible. `Civilisation did not have things we have now - like cars, electricity and technology.

The industrial revolution, the transition from handcraft and agrarian economy to manufacturing processes involving machines in 1700, has led to the warming of the climate, known as global warming.

Currently, there are more and more renewable sources of energy used, such as wind and solar power and cars fuelled by electricity. There are protected areas such as reserves and National Parks to protect and preserve endangered species and prevent deforestation.

Biodiversity conservation varies between countries; it depends on the country's economy, i.e. funds available to carry out conservation tasks, politics, culture and environmental structure such as the ecology and landscape.

The meaning of biodiversity conservation

Biodiversity conservation relates to the preservation, protection and management of biodiversity. It is about how resources can be obtained from sustainable development. To understand this, it is crucial to know the three primary levels of biodiversity - genetic, species and ecosystem.

Conserving these biodiversity elements can preserve genetic diversity and utilise species and ecosystems more sustainably.

Genetic diversity

Genetic diversity is the diversity of genetic information in living organisms. A species with a more diverse gene pool will have a higher chance of adapting and surviving changing environmental conditions.

Gene pool: the overall genetic diversity (collection of genes) within a species or a population.

Let's look at two examples of low genetic diversity and its consequences.

Since old times, crops have been selected and bred in crop agriculture to improve the yield produced. But with advantages come disadvantages. With this, pathogen susceptibility can also increase. Selecting a single species of crop and growing it over a large area will inevitably disturb the natural balance. If an epidemic (a widespread disease in a community at a specific time) were to happen, all crops would be lost.

Inbreeding refers to the mating of closely related organisms. Inbreeding is one of the main factors causing an increased chance of recessive diseases (diseases passed down from both parent carriers).

Dog breeding can be used as an example. When specific breeds were being developed, dogs were usually inbred to enhance a wanted characteristic(s). At present, there is not as much of this happening. However, breeders may wish to inbreed closely related individuals to reduce costs and inconvenience in trying to find a more distant relative. By doing this, not only some good characteristics will be passed down but also the not-so-good ones.

Mixed breeds tend to live longer than purebreds because of this. Mixed breeds have a lower chance of developing mentioned recessive hereditary conditions.

Although you might have previously considered buying a purebred dog, it is worth considering adopting a mixed breed dog in need of a home!

Species diversity

Species diversity is the variety of organisms existing in the environment; this includes species richness and abundance.

Species richness: The number of species within a specific area.

Species abundance: The number of individuals in each species.

Species diversity takes into account both richness and abundance. Species diversity is higher when the richness is high and abundance in each species investigated is more even (i.e. each species contains a similar number of individuals).

Simpson's Diversity Index (0 to 1) for a population with numerous species:

Biodiversity Conservation Simpson's Diversity Index Study Smarter

n = Total number of individuals in a single species.

N = The total number of individuals in the whole population.


Species

Number of individuals (n)

n(n-1)

Species A

5

20

Species B

10

90

Species C

3

6

Total

18

116

Simpson’s Index will then be: 1 - (116 / (18 x 17)) = 0.62 (2 d. p.)

You can simplify the number to appropriate significant figures (after 0) or decimal places.

In this case, the diversity index is high. The closer it is to 0, the lower the diversity (0 representing no diversity and 1 representing infinite diversity).

Ecosystem diversity

Ecosystem diversity is the number of ecosystems in a specific area. Ecosystems consist of abiotic and biotic components that interact with each other.

Community: all species populations in the area.

Biotic: Living components of the environment.

Abiotic: Non-living components of the environment, e.g. temperature and soil pH.

Ecosystems can be very large or smaller. Some of the larger ones include aquatic ecosystems and forests; some of the smaller ones can be a pond in your garden.

Biodiversity Conservation interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems StudySmarterFigure 1. Interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, pixabay.com.

Types of biodiversity conservation

There are many ways that you can classify types of biodiversity. There are two main broader types of biodiversity conservation:

  • In-situ: conservation of species in their natural environment.

  • Ex-situ: conservation of species out of their natural habitat.

For example, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens etc.

These can further be divided into more specific types of conservation, such as:

  • Marine conservation: Includes all marine ecosystems. These can be tropical coral reefs, mangrove forests, estuaries and others.

Biodiversity Conservation coral reef corals fish marine environment StudySmarterFigure 2. The coral reef, pixabay.com.

  • Animal conservation: Conservation efforts for animals which can be in-situ or ex-situ.

Let's take an example of a zebra which can be conserved in both ways. A zebra can be protected in national parks, reserves and sanctuaries (i.e. in-situ) or zoos (ex-situ).

Limitations, sometimes resulting in ethical issues, can arise from protecting animals ex-situ. Ex-situ animal conservation requires good maintenance in artificial habitats and protection from in-breeding, which can deteriorate the gene pool. Animals kept in small enclosures that do not well replicate their natural habitat will have a low quality of life.

  • Plant conservation: Plants can also be conserved in-situ or ex-situ.

In-situ examples include reserves where plants are preserved in their natural state; ex-situ conservation includes seed banks (plant seeds can be frozen to be used in the future) and botanical gardens.

These are some of the broader conservation types which can be divided into more specific types such as ascertain species or a certain group of species etc.

Have you heard of cryopreservation before? Cryopreservation refers to the preservation of intact living tissues and individual cells. Tissues and cells are kept at very low temperatures. Typically, freezing can be lethal, but with cryopreservation, either solid carbon dioxide (cooling at -80 degrees) or liquid nitrogen (cooling at -196 degrees) are used.

With regular freezing, ice crystals that form will damage the cells; with cryopreservation, the tissues investigated are coated with cryoprotectants (e.g. glycerol and ethylene glycol).

At the moment, cryopreservation is used to freeze sperm, eggs and embryos, among other tissues and cells. Cryopreservation is still under investigation to preserve whole animals.

Some worms, vertebrates and microbiological cultures of bacteria and fungi have been shown to tolerate freezing (however, not to -196 degrees as sperm cells!).

Human impact on biodiversity

Human impact on biodiversity is significant. Some examples include:

  • Deforestation: Cutting down large areas of trees for agriculture and expansion of cities, along with others.

  • Global warming: Greenhouse gases released into the environment cause climate warming. This occurs due to our use of fossil fuels, agriculture and others.

  • Poor waste management: Producing lots of waste which ends up in landfills.

  • Water pollution: Discharge of substances into streams and rivers, which can lead to eutrophication (body of water enriched with organic substances).

Examples of biodiversity conservation efforts

There are many ways biodiversity can be conserved and improved. These include:

  • Reducing deforestation and promoting tree re-planting.

  • The utilisation of renewable resources and reduction in non-renewable resource use.

  • Protected sites such as Ramsar sites (wetlands of importance), National parks and reserves.

  • Protection of endangered species - European Red Lists, Invasive Alien Species, Pollinators in Europe, Protected Areas and Natura 2000 etc.

  • Public awareness by delivering lectures on numerous issues, providing workshops and educating in schools.

  • In everyday life, utilising "reduce, reuse, recycle" - may not look like much on the direct effect of things. However, items which are thrown away and end up in landfills can often end up in the ocean.

As well as these, you can join a volunteering organisation where you will directly contribute to improving habitats or simply not cut the grass in your own garden to increase biodiversity.

Let's look at an example where humans have tried to reverse the impacts.

Coral reef restoration

Coral reefs are probably the most known and researched ecosystem in the world.

You have probably seen colourful pictures of coral reef ecosystems with different fishes, anemones and other animals.

Coral reefs are not only crucial for the provision of a diverse 3D habitat for many species but also for the protection of coasts from storms and contribute to the local economy (fishing, tourism and others). Sadly, however, climate change and overfishing have had negative effects. As well as seeing colourful coral reefs, you might also have seen corals that are bleached and no longer alive.

In short, coral bleaching is when symbiotic algae are expelled from the coral, giving them a white appearance.

Corals are not actually "colourful" themselves; they have symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues. They have a mutualistic relationship (symbiosis) where the coral provides compounds for photosynthesis and protection to the algae, and in return, the algae provide food. When the ocean temperatures are too warm, the coral expels algae.

Why would it expel algae when it is stressed? Surely it needs algae more during stressful times. This is because algae subjected to heat stress starts to pump free oxygen radicals, which causes damage to the coral tissue; the coral has no choice but to expel them to avoid further damage. If the heat stress does not persist for a long time, in some cases, bleaching can be reversible, and algae come back to the coral tissue. Otherwise, the coral will eventually die without the food source provided by algae.

Biodiversity Conservation coral bleaching stages healthy stressed bleached coral StudySmarter

Figure 3. Coral bleaching, Wikimedia Commons.

Other pressures apart from heat stress include disease and predation by Crown-of-thorns starfish and Drupella snails.

Drupella is in italics because it is a genus name. In taxonomy, the genus and the species' name are always in italics.

Coral gardening is one of the most popular ways to help coral reefs recover. It is a two-step process where coral fragments are grown in coral nurseries and are then transferred onto the degraded reef. This is best for an existing, established reef. It provides the "push" for the reef to withstand environmental pressures and survive.

Artificial reefs can also be used to increase biodiversity and restore the reef. Shipwrecks, dead coral rubble and other structures can be utilised. Structural restoration is needed when a large part of the reef has been destroyed through blast fishing, dredging or other significant disturbances.

Other ways include cultivating and releasing coral larvae and transplanting live colonies.

Biodiversity Conservation - Key takeaways

  • Biodiversity is all life on Earth. There are three types: genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.

  • You can calculate species diversity by using Simpson's diversity index.

  • Biodiversity can be conserved either in-situ (natural environment) or ex-situ (out of the natural environment).

  • Some human impacts on biodiversity include deforestation, global warming and air and water pollution.

  • Biodiversity conservation efforts include protecting vulnerable species, using renewable resources and reducing waste.

Frequently Asked Questions about Biodiversity Conservation

There are many ways that biodiversity can be conserved. We can start small by incorporating “reduce, reuse, recycle” and volunteering. As a human population, we should prevent deforestation, utilise renewable resources, and protect endangered species among others.

Protection and preservation of the environment and living organisms associated with it.

We use our environment directly for leisure and its resources to fuel our cars and home. We need to conserve our environment to be able to use its resources in the long term.

Coral nurseries for reef restoration.

A variety of living organisms on Earth.

Final Biodiversity Conservation Quiz

Question

What are the three different types of corals?

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Answer

Atolls, fringing reefs, and barrier reefs.

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Question

Which organisms form the endosymbiotic foundation of the reef?

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Answer

Coral polyps and zooxanthellae.

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Question

How are reefs environmentally important?

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Answer

Provide coastal protection, improve water quality, cycle nutrients effectively.

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Question

How are reefs important to humans?

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Answer

Act as tourist attractions, provide coastal protection, provide many jobs, contain many rare materials. 

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Question

What human activities are resulting in climate change?

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Answer

Burning fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture.

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Question

What are some direct human impacts on coral reefs?

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Answer

Tourism, mining of corals, intensive fishing practices.

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Question

What is ocean acidification?

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Answer

The formation of carbonic acid when carbon dioxide is dissolved into the ocean.

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Question

Why is ocean acidification a problem?

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Answer

OA reduces carbonate availability in the sea; coral polyps rely on calcium carbonate to build up their exoskeleton.

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Question

How does coral bleaching occur?

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Answer

When corals become stressed in rising temperatures they release their algal endosymbiont and become bleached.

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Question

How are planktonic communities affected by rising temperatures?

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Answer

They will be restricted to areas which are cool enough, reducing species biodiversity.

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Question

How does industrial runoff affect corals?

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Answer

Corals thrive in low-nutrient environments, so nutrient-rich sedimentation will suffocate them.

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Question

How do altering currents affect reef ecosystems?

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Answer

Nutrient availability decreases.

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Question

How are coral reefs important to local ecosystems?

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Answer

Reefs provide shelter, feeding grounds, and a place to reproduce safely.

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Question

Why is the ocean warming?

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Answer

Human emissions are adding to the greenhouse effect which warms the atmosphere and consequently the ocean.

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Question

Why are increasing precipitation levels dangerous?

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Answer

They can cause increased runoff of land-based pollutants.

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Question

What is the carbon footprint?

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Answer

Greenhouse emissions by an individual, a group of individuals or organisations.

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Question

What are the three levels of biodiversity?

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Answer

Genetic, species and ecosystem.

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Question

Give a real life example of a low genetic diversity.

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Answer

Low genetic diversity can occur where the gene pool is low. This often occurs due to inbreeding. For example, a breeder breeds two closely related dogs which reduces the gene pool because they will already share many genes.

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Question

 Fill in the blanks about genetic diversity. 

Genetic diversity refers to the diversity of _________ information in living organisms. A species that has a more diverse ______ pool will have a higher chance to ________ and _______ in changing environmental conditions. This is because there is a higher chance of __________ characteristics.

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Answer

Genetic diversity refers to the diversity of genetic information in living organisms. A species that has a more diverse gene pool will have a higher chance to adapt and survive in changing environmental conditions. This is because there is a higher chance of advantageous characteristics.

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Question

What is species richness?

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Answer

The number of species within a given area.

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Question

Calculate Simpson’s Diversity Index on two species in a population. There are 2 individuals in Species A and 5 in Species B. Give your answer to two decimal places.

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Answer

The following steps:

  • The total number of individuals (N) = 7

  • n(n-1): Species A = 2; Species B = 20

  • Total of n(n-1) = 22

  • Index: 1 - (22 / (7 x 6)) = 0.48 (2 d. p.)

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Question

What is the difference between abiotic and abiotic components in the environment?

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Answer

Abiotic are non-living components and biotic are living organisms.

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Question

Give two examples of an abiotic component of the environment.

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Answer

Temperature and wind.

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Question

What is ex-situ conservation? 

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Answer

Conservation of species out of their natural habitat.

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Question

Give an example for each: in-situ and ex-situ conservation of a tropical fish.

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Answer

Ex-situ: an aquarium; in-situ: Marine Protected Site (MPA). 


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Question

 What is deforestation?

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Answer

Cutting down large areas of trees.

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Question

Give an example of what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

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Answer

Reduce your use of plastic packaged goods.

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Question

Why should we protect coral reefs?

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Answer

Coral reefs provide coastal protection, habitat for many species, food for the local communities and a place for tourism.

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Question

What is eutrophication?

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Answer

 Enrichment of nutrients in a body of water.

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Question

Species abundance is the number of species within a specific area. True or False?

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Answer

False. Species abundance is the number of individuals in each species.

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Question

What is a mangrove forest?

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Answer

Mangrove forests are arrangement of trees which grow on coastlines adjacent to water bodies.

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Question

Why do mangroves only grow in tropical regions?

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Answer

Because tropical waters have high salinities.

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Question

Why do the roots require slow moving water?

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Answer

So more sedimentation can occur.

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Question

How do mangroves provide coastline protection?

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Answer

Mangroves are a physical barrier to ocean action and their roots stabilise soils which limits erosion.

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Question

Why are mangrove forests such unique habitats?

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Answer

Because they provide homes for terrestrial and aquatic species.

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Question

Why are mangroves called carbon sinks?

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Answer

Massive amounts of dead organic matter are absorbed in the mangrove mud.

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Question

How do mangroves maintain nearby water quality?

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Answer

They absorb nutrient runoff from land.

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Question

What does not evaluated (NE) mean? 


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Answer

Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria.

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Question

What does data deficient (DD) mean? 

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Answer

Not enough data to make an assessment of its risk of extinction.

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Question

What does least concern (LC) mean? 

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Answer

Lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at-risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.

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Question

What does near threatened Near threatened (NT) mean? 

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Answer

Likely to become endangered in the near future.

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What does vulnerable (VU) mean? 

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Answer

High risk of endangerment in the wild.

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What does endangered (EN) mean?

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Answer

Very likely to become extinct in the near future

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What does critically endangered (CR) mean? 

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Answer

Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

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Question

What does extinct in the wild (EW) mean? 

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Answer

Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.

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Question

What does Extinct (EX) mean? 

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Answer

No known individuals remaining.

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Question

What does Threatened mean?

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Answer

A grouping of three categories: Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable.

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Question

How many categories are there?

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Answer

9

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Question

True or false - Data deficient is a category of threat?

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Answer

False

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Question

Why is correct documentation important?

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Answer

The scientific paper informs big decisions regarding conservation across the world and correct documentation enables informed reassessments.

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