In this image from the United States Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir (right), founder of the Sierra Club, stand atop Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background are the upper and lower Yosemite Falls.
Muir’s passion for conserving the natural areas of America and the obvious beauty of the land convinced Roosevelt to further protect Yellowstone National Park (the U.S.’s, and the world’s, first), to create 5 additional parks, and to actively support conservation efforts. Muir’s passion for preserving the natural world also lives on in the interdisciplinary field of conservation biology.
Conservation biology is focused on understanding and maintaining Earth’s biodiversity and the natural processes that create and sustain it. Conservation biologists study the impacts that humans have on biological diversity from the genetic level to the whole ecosystem level. They also develop practical ways to protect and restore that diversity.
Biologist and founder of the Society for Conservation Biology Michael Soulé wrote one of the first formal explanations of the field in his 1985 paper “What is conservation biology?” Soulé and other early supporters called it a “crisis discipline” because it arose in response to concern over extinction and global loss of biodiversity. At its core, conservation biology is an applied science with certain goals and values built into it. Like all scientists, conservation biologists seek knowledge about the natural world. But they also suggest ways to apply that knowledge to a real-world problem: biodiversity loss. Modern conservation biologists draw on wide-ranging disciplines like genetics, physiology, forestry, social science, and many others. They employ a number of tools and approaches in their efforts to study and protect biodiversity.
To read John Muir’s biography, visit this page from the Sierra Club. For more information on the National Park Service, visit their page and read about their history. To learn more about the profession of conservation biology and its history visit the Society for Conservation Biology. To learn about a modern effort at conservation biology, see our scientist profile “Sergio Avila: Tracking Endangered Jaguars.”
Written by Eric Dillalogue
Eric Dillalogue holds a MS in Library and Information Science and a BA in English. He has worked in a variety of roles from service industry management, academic libraries, and grant administration. He has taught courses on information literacy, web research, and developmental reading. Eric joined the Visionlearning team as a project manager in 2014.