Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Dr. Travis J. Ryan


There is a biodiversity crisis in our midst. An abundance of technology and innovation in the last 200 years has revamped our world but at the cost of pushing many species to extinction. Since the passing of the Endangered Species Act by Congress in 1973, more than 100 species in the United States have disappeared (Wilson 2006). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stats that "19,265 species out of the 59,507 so far assessed as threatened with extinction," (IUCN 2011). Extinction is the result of a combination of factors caused by human environmental disturbance. Disturbances in the form of habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive species, global climate change, disease, and pollution are impacting biological diversity of Earth as we know it (IUCN 2011).

These disturbances are directly tied to human activity. As human activity increase, environments key for species survival vanish. Humanity destroys natural habitats every day in order to obtain resources required at current standard of living. Habitat loss is seen in the form of deforestation, urban sprawl, and desertification. As the agriculture industry grows so does the need for land to grow crops, which in turn requires the destruction of forest regions. Urban sprawl comes from swelling population; cities grow outward to account for the housing requirements. Desertification is the process of turning once arable land into an arid zone, unable to support its former in habitants and is the product of climate change. Overexploitation, the unsustainable use of a natural resource, is notable in commercial and recreational fisheries. It has been identified as problematic, yet is a continued practice. Overexploitation results in overfishing and low stock levels (Rosenburg 2003). Climate change is attributable to burning fossil fuels and introducing other types of pollution in the Earth's atmosphere. The result, a rise in concentrations of greenhouse gases, which keep temperatures higher on Earth then they would be otherwise (U.S. EPA 2010). Invasive and introduced species, species that do not belong in a given habitat, bring great harm to native species. Competition ensues and invasive species, lacking natural predators, may have the ability to take over, "establish and spread outside of their normal distribution," (IUCN 2011). With them, invasive species can bring disease further hindering survivability of native species. These factors influence each other, contributing to the destructive cycle.

Biodiversity is essential to human livelihood. Biological diversity, "refers to the wide variety of living things and systems on planet Earth ranging from microbes and viruses all the way up (in scale) to entire ecosystems," (Grayling 2010). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, "Biodiversity is crucial to human wellbeing, sustainable development and poverty reduction," (IUCN 2010). We see the importance of this concept in medicinal plant use, gene pools of livestock animals and crop plants, and global food security. Over 70,000 plant species have been tied to traditional and modern medicine. Biodiversity grants "freedom of choice" (IUCN 2010) whic exemplifies the importance of a large gene pool for livestock and crops. A large gene pool decreases the risk for DNA mutations which can cause disease. It has been said that ecosystem productivity, all the growth of plants in a set time period, increase when the number of plant species is higher. Variability in communities allows for more resource capture and essentially more productivity (Tilman 1997). The continued depletion of natural resources and genetic variability, an increase in the numbers of diseases and continued climate change may ultimately affect long-term human survivorship. It is important to education societies of the dangers that lie in the years ahead if proper actions and changes are not met. Due to the high-risk state that biodiversity is in, awareness of the issue is more important than ever, but in order to combat the problem, species conservation will be the fulcrum to biodiversity's continued existence.

Conservation efforts are being implemented across the globe to educate people about the threats to wildlife caused by bulldozers and buzz saws along with employing various means to fight against exploitation and unsustainable practices. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the worlds' first, global environmental organization. It was founded in 1948 and is a network of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and government organizations, with over 1,000 members in 140 countries (IUCN 2011). Throughout its network of membership IUCN is able to initiate a multitude of field projects, support scientific research, generate and execute policies, laws and practices (IUCN 2011). In 1963, IUCN members held a meeting to discuss the increase of wildlife and plant trade across international borders. This meeting resulted in adopting a new resolution, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is a voluntary agreement between governments throughout the world that promotes international cooperation to safeguard species from overexploitation (CITES 2011). Currently, 175 different countries are participating members. The primary goal of CITES is to ensure that international trade of animal and plant species does not affect species survivorship and livelihood (CITES 2011). This organization, "works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls" (CITES 2011). A licensing system overseen by a Management Authority and Scientific Authority in each participating country controls what species may be exported, imported, introduced, or reexported based on their current status. Each member nation acts like a legal "checks and balances" system which strengthens the efforts they are trying to achieve. Conservation efforts are not only being practices at an international level but also in our backyards. In the United States conservation promotion and awareness are made primarily through NGOs, such as the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Conservation is a necessity to solving the biodiversity crisis. Public policy is one of the many routes readily working towards goals of species and habitat preservation. Environmental legislation varies between countries. This thesis seeks to understand the way conservation is practiced in the United States of America and Australia. I begin by comparing the history of environmental legislation in each country. I then look at the activity of non-governmental organizations interested in conservation. Finally, I use an endangered species endemic to each nation to compare the effectiveness of the conservation effort.