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The US is key to global biodiversity

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The US is key to global biodiversity

WILSON 2000 (E.O., Harvard University Museum of Comparative Biology and possibly the greatest living biologist, Precious Heritage, ix-x)

America First. This timeworn phrase, put in the context of the natural environment, may now be given a new and beneficent meaning. In Pre­ cious Heritage some of the leading experts on the subject present the most comprehensive and accessible account of the state of the American biota to date. They invite us to turn inward, not by abandoning global conser­ vation but by conserving our own fauna and flora in a manner that will set a shining example for the rest of the world.

Surely the United States is the ideal country to provide such leader­ ship. Vast in geographical extent, it harbors the largest number of known species of any temperate country. It contains the widest spread of biome types, ranging from rain forest to Arctic tundra and from coral reefs to great lakes, of any country in the world. Few people, including even many scientists who specialize on biodiversity, have grasped the full magnitude of the American biota as summarized by the Precious Heritage authors. The 200,000 or so U.S. species described scientifically to date are more than 10% of all those known on Earth. Among the countries of the world, the United States leads in diversity of salamanders, crayfishes, freshwa­ ter turtles, and freshwater mollusks. It has the most species of mammals and among the richest flora of any temperate country.

Moreover, this remarkable biota is only partly explored. Hundreds of new species are still being discovered each year, especially among the more obscure invertebrates of small size. When insects, the most speciose of all groups, are thrown in, the full number of species, both those already known to science and others still unknown, might easily be doubled.

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