conservation biology


An interdisciplinary branch of science 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 (variety) from the genetic level to the whole ecosystem level. They also develop practical ways to protect and restore that diversity.

While it has roots in the older field of ecology, conservation biology is a young scientific discipline. It emerged as its own recognized field of study in the 1980s, though wildlife managers in Australia and Europe had been using the term and practicing some of its tenets (principles) for several decades.

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. Some of the most common are nature reserves designed to protect species and their habitats and captive breeding programs to help boost wild populations.

Conservation biologists fill many roles, including academic researchers, government wildlife managers and land use planners, breeders at zoos and aquaria, and scientists and advocates working for non-profit groups.

To learn more about the profession and its history, download Soulé's classic paper "What is conservation biology?" ( and visit the Society for Conservation Biology ( To learn about global efforts to conserve biodiversity, explore the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (

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