In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conservation Biology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Historical Background
  • Population Paradigms
  • Ecosystem Services
  • Biodiversity Hotspots and Coldspots
  • Extinction Debt and Colonization Credit

Ecology Conservation Biology
Luc Lens, H. Eggermont
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 May 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0072


Conservation biology is defined as a “mission-oriented crisis discipline” studying the nature and status of Earth’s biodiversity, with the aim to understand, protect, and perpetuate biological diversity at all scales and all levels of biological organization. The discipline is tied closely to ecology in researching the dispersal, migration, demographics, effective population size, inbreeding depression, and minimum population viability of rare or endangered species. Yet, conservation biology is an interdisciplinary subject, not only drawing on various biological sciences (ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, etc.), but also on social sciences, economics, and conservation policy. The principles underlying each of these disciplines have immediate implications for the management of species and ecosystems, captive breeding and reintroduction, genetic analyses, and habitat restoration.

General Overviews

Textbooks on conservation biology are plentiful, but only a selection has been frequently used by advanced undergraduates and graduates, researchers, and practitioners, as exemplified by frequent updates (up to five editions). Comprehensive introductory works such as Hunter and Gibbs 2011, Primack 2008, and Van Dyke 2008 focus not only on the biological aspects of conservation biology, but also they equally highlight social, political, and economic aspects. The many case studies included in each of these books also make theoretical concepts highly explicable to the general public. As such, they prove to be a vital resource that is needed to inspire a flood of new work in the field of conservation biology. Some of the textbooks, such as Primack 2010, also target conservation practitioners, wildlife managers, and other conservation professionals, by providing tools and examples tuning conservation biology into a practical science. Similarly, although Pullin 2002 may be somewhat outdated, this nicely illustrated textbook touches on the methods that have been developed to address fundamental problems in conservation biology, from the most traditional forms of conservation to new approaches at genetic to landscape scales, consequently showing how the science can be put into practice. More recently, Sodhi and Ehrlich 2010 is a freely accessible online book covering topics such as balancing conversion and human needs, climate change, conservation planning, designing and analyzing conservation research, ecosystem services, endangered species management, extinctions, fire, habitat loss, and invasive species. Accessible intellectually and financially, to a broad audience, this book is—as stated in the title—“conservation biology for all.” Numerous textbooks focusing on more specialized topics are also available, such as Samways, et al. 2010, which focuses on aspects of insect conservation. Besides comprehensive textbooks, websites such as the Society for Conservation Biology are also an invaluable resource, providing a continuously updated platform with links and web pages targeted at students, educators, and members of the public.

  • Hunter, Malcolm L., and James P. Gibbs. 2011. Fundamentals of conservation biology. 3d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Science.

    Concisely written handbook in its third edition, offering a thorough introduction to conservation biology. Integrates complex topics such as mass extinction, ecosystem degradation, and overexploitation with social, political, and economic aspects of conservation biology. Artwork provided online or on CD-ROM.

  • Primack, Richard B. 2008. A primer of conservation biology. 4th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    Highly accessible introduction to conservation biology, incorporating background, theory, and examples that capture the full range of species, habitats, and geographic areas of the world. Thought provoking by highlighting conflicts and controversies. Annotated list of suggested readings and websites.

  • Primack, Richard B. 2010. Essentials of conservation biology. 5th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinaeur.

    Focuses on the active role that scientists, local people, the general public, conservation organizations, and governments can play in protecting biodiversity. Well-chosen case studies show that conservation biology is very much a practical science. Now in its fifth edition, supplemented by an instructor’s resource CD-ROM.

  • Pullin, Andrew S. 2002. Conservation biology. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Beautifully illustrated textbook that takes the reader on a tour of the many and varied ecosystems of our planet. Provides a setting in which to explore factors that have led to the alarming loss of biodiversity, and conservation measures required to conserve them. Accessible to undergraduates, postgraduates, and established researchers.

  • Samways, Michael J., Melodie A. McGeoch, and Tim R. New. 2010. Insect conservation: A handbook of approaches and methods. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Book describing modern as well as more “traditional” methods of insect conservation, backed up by practical background information and a global range of examples. Particularly relevant to postgraduate and advanced undergraduate students taking courses in insect ecology, conservation biology, and environmental management, as well as established researchers in these fields. It will also be a valuable reference for practitioners of nature conservation and professional entomologists worldwide.

  • Society for Conservation Biology.

    Website of the Society for Conservation Biology, dedicated to promoting the scientific study of maintenance, loss, and restoration of biological diversity. Provides links to conservation-related journals and publications, awards, fellowships, and academic programs.

  • Sodhi, Navjot S., and Paul R. Ehrlich, eds. 2010. Conservation biology for all. Oxford Biology. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554232.001.0001

    Written by some of the world’s most prominent conservation biologists. Hardcopies freely available to scientists in developing countries through the Natural History Bookstore. Also available online.

  • Van Dyke, Fred. 2008. Conservation biology: Foundations, concepts, applications. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

    Presents key information and well-selected examples to illustrate how conservation biology links with other disciplines such as ethics, law, policy, and economics. Also provides useful hints on how to enter the work of conservation as a professional and personal vocation.

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