This article contrasts the instrumental-value approach, extensionist approach, and biocentric approach to environmental ethics with the Buddhist approach of Daisaku Ikeda in terms of their meaning for wildlife conservation. I argue that both anthropocentric and biocentric approaches create a false dichotomy between humans and nature and are not helpful to modern wildlife conservation, which aims to balance the needs of people with the conservation of nature. The views of Daisaku Ikeda, in particular the principle of dependent origination and the theory of the oneness of life and its environment, constitute one alternative approach that does not separate humans from the natural world but places people within the web of all living things.
Although there is disagreement regarding the proper human relationship toward the rest of the natural world, most conservationists agree that biological diversity is valuable and that the extinction of species should be avoided where possible (Cafaro and Primack 2001). Justifications for these principles vary, ranging from arguments that emphasize the instrumental value of other species for humans to ethical theories that assert that wild species have intrinsic value.
In the face of increasing human population and the related pressures on nonhuman species and their habitats, conservation efforts have to reconcile the conservation of nature with the needs of people. Especially in developing countries, people's livelihoods depend on the extraction of natural resources. It is therefore not surprising that arguments for the conservation of wildlife stress the instrumental value that certain species have for people, a value that can often be translated into economic terms. Such reasoning does not necessarily support the reckless exploitation of the environment. Rather, these arguments support the idea that species should be carefully managed as natural resources for human benefit. In fact, most international environmental policymaking is underpinned by a broadly anthropocentric approach to environmental value. At the level of popular political debate, the ethical agenda is largely composed of resource management concerns (Palmer 2003). The most commonly cited definition of sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987) is anthropocentric (Cafaro and Primack 2001). Accordingly, it can be argued that species deserve to be protected and conserved insofar as they are good for people. The preamble to the Convention on Biodiversity, however, affirms the intrinsic value of biological diversity even before listing other values such as ecological, genetic, and economic value (SCBD 2003).
The question of whether intrinsic value can indeed be found in anything but human beings is controversial. The debate on environmental ethics is thus largely concerned with finding out whether intrinsic value in nonhumans is possible or even necessary in order to develop universal theories why humans should protect their natural environment. This theoretical debate on whether nonhumans have value independent of humans is criticized by environmental pragmatists, who claim that while philosophers argue, the environment burns.
In this article I contrast four categories of approaches toward environmental ethics—the instrumental-value approach, the extensionist approach, the biocentric approach, and the Buddhist approach of Daisaku Ikeda—and identify the meaning of each of these approaches for wildlife conservation. I argue that both anthropocentric and biocentric approaches to environmental ethics create a false dichotomy between humans and nature and are thus not useful as an underpinning for modern wildlife conservation policies, which aim to balance the needs of people with the conservation of nature. The views of Daisaku Ikeda, particularly the principle of dependent origination and the theory of the oneness of life and its environment, are one alternative approach that does not separate humans from the natural world but places people within the web of all living things.
Instrumental value in wildlife: What species are good for
There are several frequently employed arguments for the conservation of wild species. These arguments have in common that they focus on the value species have for humans. Arguments that stress the instrumental value of species for human well-being are called anthropocentric. In this view, wild species are only good inasmuch as they are good for something, that is, have a use or a value for humans. Such a value may be economic (Myers 1983). Some wildlife species are of high economic value for tourism, hunting, and live sale (Child 1970). The value of an animal in a live sale or the value of a hunting trophy can be expressed in direct cash terms. Indirect economic values accrue from the roles species play in recreation and ecotourism, waste disposal, climate regulation, and protection of soil and water resources.
Species also have aesthetic value in that they contribute to the diversity and beauty of the planet (Myers 1979a). The safari and ecotourism industries attest to the aesthetic value people attach to particular wildlife species, which causes tourists to travel large distances and to pay large amounts of money for game-viewing safaris. At least for developed nations, where opportunities to observe wildlife are steadily decreasing, it can be said that the quality of life will decline substantially with the loss of species diversity. In many developing countries, game viewing and trophy hunting generate considerable sums of money, and the aesthetic value of wildlife can thus be directly linked to an economic value.
An interesting question arises here, namely, to what degree and in what way do tribal communities see wildlife as valuable for quality of life? Members of developed nations translate the wildlife experience into a monetary value for local communities. But what value do the local communities attach to wildlife? Newmark and colleagues (1993) have shown that the support for or opposition to protected areas in Tanzania by neighboring community members is based on economic values, as had previously been found in Rwanda and Brazil. Kangwana and Mako (2001), on the other hand, state that later surveys indicate “that people living around the [Tarangire National] Park hold cultural values which drive their desire to see that wildlife continues to exist in their surroundings” and that “wildlife is seen [by local people] as having a value beyond its simple economic costs and benefits.” In Namibia, traditional tribal authorities support the establishment of protected areas to help wildlife return to their homelands (Mauney 2004).
Nature and wildlife are also a great philosophical and spiritual resource, serving as inspiration for religious, philosophical, and spiritual thought and experience. This is not only true for the direct experience of wildlife; the mere idea that we share the Earth with blue whales, orangutans, and cheetahs, for example, can be inspiring. What is valued here is the simple possibility that a species exists and survives, although one might never see it (Fisher 2001).
Many species, including endangered ones, are expected to have agricultural, industrial, and medical benefits. To lose such species diminishes the genetic stock of wild animals, so it is prudent to save them. We might not know now which species will turn out to be useful in the future; therefore, protection should extend from the current obviously useful species to those that are currently considered less useful. Myers (1979b) urges us to “conserve our global stock,” to conserve species in order to protect useful genetic material. The purpose of protecting species is thus for their “enlightened exploitation” (Rolston 2001).
It is frequently argued that many species that are not necessarily directly useful to humans still play important roles in the ecosystem. Although the loss of a few species might not be too serious now, the loss of many species will threaten the processes and interdependencies of the ecosystem on which we as humans depend, in ways that cannot possibly be foreseen. Thus species are part of a life-support system: Earth is seen as a biological habitat or home. Every species contributes to the planet's biodiversity, which keeps ecosystems healthy (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1982).
Species also serve as indicators of ecosystem health. We need to study species and their roles within ecosystems to understand their interdependencies and to predict the impacts of our actions on the environment. Species offer clues to understanding natural history and thus have historical value as records of past processes. This argument views species as a biological Rosetta stone that may enable the deciphering of the hieroglyphs of natural history (Rolston 2001). According to this argument, species have scientific value because they provide humans with insights into the text of natural history, which humans need in order to understand their own environment. Some species are curiosities and a source of fascination to enthusiastic naturalists. Generally speaking, wildlife species can be a basis for creative and intellectual thought. One of the outcomes of such thought is a better-informed perspective on the natural history of the planet and its life-forms.
Arguments centering on the instrumental value of wildlife provide a basis for valuing and protecting species. Nonetheless, arguments for the conservation of species that are based on instrumental value are problematic for conservation workers, because they put the onus of proof on the side of the conservator. Conservationists have to explicitly and successfully show that a species is worth protecting because of its value to humans; otherwise, it may well be assumed that that there is no such value. Thus this line of argument, if used alone, presents ongoing challenges for endangered species conservation, since many rare and endangered species have little instrumental value. Moreover, arguments based on instrumental value can also provide grounds for extinguishing species (e.g., pests) or for saving one species rather than another (e.g., when resources are constrained).
Forced to prove the value of wild species, many conservationists favor the economic argument, because economic value can be measured in objective terms. The economic returns to be gained from species conservation can be expressed in monetary terms, thus providing powerful arguments. In comparison, the scientific argument, the ecosystem argument, and the aesthetic argument are considered “unlikely to stand up against man-made pressures to modify and disrupt natural environments” (Myers 1979a). Consequently, it is argued that wildlife must pay its way, and economic benefits must be stressed to ensure that wildlife will survive in the face of other profitable forms of land use. This view takes for granted the manmade pressures for environmental change. Although the instrumental-value approach is based on the need to conserve species as resources for the benefit of people, this view is underpinned by a negative concept of humanity. Humans are seen as driven first and foremost by self-interest. Without external checks, such as incentives, benefits, or legislation, we are, according to this view, in profound conflict with each other and with our natural environment. This view of humanity and of ethical behavior is fundamentally pessimistic. Its conclusion is that we cannot rely on members of our own species in order to protect endangered species unless we make use of the very character traits that endangered them in the first place.
Intrinsic value in wildlife: Why we ought to protect species
Richard Routley, who later changed his last name to Sylvan, argued that positions that only stress the instrumental value of nonhuman species do not provide sufficient ground for environmental ethics. He presented the “last man” argument, a thought experiment in which he asked if the last person on Earth, well knowing that no human being will ever inhabit the planet afterward and equipped with the means to eliminate all life on the planet, would be justified in doing so. Sylvan suggests that most people would intuitively say “no” and call such destructive behavior morally wrong, although no human being would remain to experience the consequences (Sylvan 1998). This suggests that there is value in species independent of their use for humans. Whether or not intrinsic value can exist in anything other than human life, however, is debatable. Unlike economic value, which is measurable, intrinsic value is difficult to express and to prove.
Extensionist environmental ethics
One way of identifying the intrinsic value of nonhumans is to extend traditional moral theory, which concerns itself with interaction between humans, to include members of other species, stressing their similarities to humans. The search for features common to humans and other animals is an attempt at building a particular type of moral community. Most people have no difficulty in recognizing the moral bond between parents and children, for example, or between friends or partners. As we extend moral obligations beyond the boundaries of our immediate environment, we naturally look for features that give an inferential foundation for this extension. Consequently, so-called extensionist arguments ask what qualities give intrinsic value to humans, and then assert that some other beings possess these qualities, too. In the Kantian tradition, this moral criterion is rationality (Downie 1995), and one common justification for valuing animals intrinsically is that some have been shown to possess some rudimentary form of reasoning. Chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught sign language; some predators, such as wolves and lions, have the ability to coordinate hunts; dolphins, whales, and other cetaceans send complex signals that we are only beginning to understand. But basing intrinsic value on these abstract capacities seems to rule out most animals, including most invertebrate species.
Another moral criterion is sentience (Singer 2001). The argument is that because animals share the ability to experience their environment and to suffer, human actions that inflict suffering on animals are morally wrong. Using sentience as the moral criterion does include a wider class of animals within an extended ethical domain, but still restricts it to sentient animals. Plants, fungi, and single-celled organisms are effectively ruled out.
What is common to all extensionist theories is that they take the ego as the point of departure: I am intrinsically valuable because I possess the moral criterion, and I must grant others who possess the criterion the same rights. The problem with this line of argument is obvious: The scope of moral consideration will either extend only to some but not all species or lead to a very demanding code of conduct, since it is then morally wrong for humans to kill individuals of any species, unless justified through an appeal to our own survival. What is more, extensionist arguments focus on individual organisms rather than on whole species. Such individualist approaches allow no moral consideration of animal or plant populations, or of endemic, rare, or endangered species, let alone biotic communities or ecosystems, because entities and aggregations such as these have no apparent psychological experience. Conservationists, however, are concerned with the conservation of species and ecosystems rather than individual animals. Hence it is questionable whether these individualistic approaches can serve as an ethical underpinning for wildlife conservation (Cafaro and Primack 2001).
Holistic environmental ethics
In contrast with individualistic environmental ethicists, other ethicists state that viewing nature as an aggregation of individuals is a distortion that does not appreciate nature's organic, integrated, and dynamic character (Palmer 2003). It is for this reason, among others, that some ethicists argue a completely new ethics is required: Environmental ethics need to challenge the philosophical tradition and to develop arguments that go far beyond simply extending traditional moral arguments (Sylvan 1998). Holistic environmental ethics focus on ethical consideration of ecological wholes (Palmer 2003), which encompass all levels of individuals, aggregations, relationships, and processes. Such non-extensionist approaches, also called naturalistic or biocentric, seek arguments to support the preservation of species, because all species represent unique biological solutions to the problem of survival (Rolston 2001). More diverse biological communities seem to be better able to deal with environmental disturbances; therefore, if we value some species, we arguably should protect the entire system of interdependent species. Examples of such holistic approaches are Aldo Leopold's “land ethic” (1970, Callicott 1998) and Rolston's “environmental ethics” (1991). Leopold's essay “The Land Ethic” (1970) is considered by many the foundational work in holistic environmental ethics, although more recent interpretations focus on anthropocentric elements in Leopold's work (Norton 1996, Palmer 2003). To Leopold, the community rather than the individual organism is the focus of moral consideration, and ecological qualities such as integrity and stability are of primary value. This approach therefore provides arguments for the conservation of species, rather than individual organisms, inasmuch as species play an important role in the stability and integrity of the ecosystem.
Approaches that prioritize the whole over the individual, particularly when the whole is the wild biotic community, are widely viewed as ethically unacceptable or even fascist (Palmer 2003). The focus on the ecological system leads to a picture of human beings, not as vital to the workings of the system, but rather as detrimental to it. Rolston goes so far as to conclude that sometimes the protection of the environment takes precedence over feeding hungry people (Rolston 2003). Thus, wildlife conservators who adopt a biocentric stance see their responsibility as protecting the ecosystem from people whose actions are perceived as harming the natural environment. As a consequence, conservation workers, in their struggle to protect the natural environment, are likely to become antagonized toward people. Such misanthropic positions sharpen the dichotomy of human versus environment and are unlikely to be helpful in balancing the interests of people with the protection of the environment, which lies at the heart of the wildlife conservation challenge.
The debate over intrinsic value has been criticized as being of little use for environmental policymaking (Light and Katz 1996). Whether or not nonhuman entities can have intrinsic value is considered by environmental pragmatists a purely theoretical discussion. The origin of the discussion on intrinsic value may lie embedded in the tradition of Western philosophical thought. Modern thinking is strongly influenced by Descartes (1596–1650), who divided the world into matter and mind, thus creating a dualism that treats humans and their environment as separate entities (Taliaferro 2001). The influence of 17th-century classical science on Western culture is pervasive. Descartes's skeptical, mathematical method underpins modern science, and rationality shapes modern Western thought. The scientific revolution replaced the organic view of nature as a living organism with the mechanistic view of nature as a machine (Merchant 1980). The organic notion of nature carried the dual connotation both of nature as a nurturing mother and of nature as an unpredictable female who causes chaos through natural disasters (Merchant 1980). The increased mechanization that followed in the wake of the new scientific discoveries not only provided a means to control and subordinate nature but also led to a mechanistic worldview emphasizing order and control. Whereas the image of Earth as a living organism had served as a cultural constraint restricting human actions in relation to the environment, the increasingly rationalized world-view resulting from the scientific revolution portrays nature as lifeless and thus sanctions its exploitation (Merchant 1980). The result is a worldview in which humans and nature are separated and in which humans are seen as subjective agents and nature as a passive object. This view makes it difficult to envision people and the natural environment as mutually interdependent. Whereas the dependency of people on their environment is obvious, the natural environment seems to be better off without people.
The oneness of self and its environment
Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, is not based on the mind–matter dichotomy (Allwright 2002) but rather on the principle of harmonious and nonviolent coexistence (Xianlin et al. 2001). Whereas the Western approach to nature has been a violent one focused on conquering nature, the Eastern approach has been characterized by respect for the rhythms, processes, and phenomena of the natural world (Lai 2001, Xianlin et al. 2001).
An example of the latter approach can be found in the work of Daisaku Ikeda, who is a Buddhist philosopher, author, and president of Soka Gakkai International, a nongovernmental organization and lay Buddhist association with more than 12 million members around the world. Ikeda's approach provides a bridge between Eastern and Western thought that is a valuable contribution to environmental philosophy.
Ikeda's philosophy is based on Buddhist thought, central to which is the concept of dependent origination (also called dependent co-arising). The doctrine of dependent origination expresses the interdependence of all things, meaning that beings or phenomena cannot exist on their own, but exist or occur because of their relationship with other beings and phenomena. In this view, everything in the world comes into existence in response to internal causes and external conditions; in other words, nothing can exist independent of other things or arise in isolation. As Ikeda explains in “Dialogues on Eastern Religion” (Xianlin et al. 2001), “According to this view, when one particular cause or set of causes exists then a certain result comes about; when one entity comes into being, so does another entity” (p. 9).
This concept of dependent origination is compatible with the biological concept of symbiosis. Each human being exists within the context of interrelationships that include not only other human beings but all living beings and the natural world. Interestingly, Ikeda does not consider this relationship as one-sided (i.e., human beings depend on the natural environment in order to flourish), but as a mutual relationship of interdependence. To give a better understanding of this idea, Ikeda explains that according to Buddhist ontology life can be described in terms of 10 factors (Ikeda 1994). The first three factors—appearance, nature, and entity—describe life from a static perspective; the next six—power, influence, internal cause, external cause, latent effect, and manifest effect—describe the dynamic functions of life. Power and influence refer, respectively, to life's inherent capacity to act and to the action that is produced when this inherent power is activated. Internal cause, external cause, latent effect, and manifest effect describe how causality links each phenomenon to its environment. Each individual phenomenon contains an internal, latent cause or disposition, which simultaneously contains a latent effect. In the right conditions, this latent internal cause is activated or triggered. External cause thus provides the link between the individual phenomenon and its surroundings. The external conditions cause a change in the internal cause, which in turn results in a change of the latent effect. The manifest effect is the physical result of the action, which arises as a result of the internal cause. Thus the individual and the external world are interlinked through a network of causality. Internal cause and latent effect are simultaneous; the one is contained in the other. The manifest effect, however, often appears later in time. The 10th factor, consistency from beginning to end, refers to the integration of all factors. They are not in themselves separate but are all different aspects of the same phenomenon. If we consider the first three factors as referring to entity and the remaining factors as referring to the function of this entity, “consistency from beginning to end” refers to the unity of an entity and its function; they are inseparable (Ikeda 1994).
The 10 factors together represent the oneness of the material and the spiritual aspect of life. Appearance represents the physical, nature the spiritual aspect of life; internal cause and latent effect refer to the spiritual, because they lie dormant within life; manifest effect, on the other hand, is perceivable in the physical world and thus refers to the material aspect of life. Thus, unlike Western thought, which is underpinned by the dualism of mind and body, Ikeda's philosophy is informed by the “non-dualities” of Buddhist thought: that is, the oneness of body and mind; the oneness of the internal and the external; the oneness of cause and effect; and the oneness of life and its environment (Ikeda 1994).
The idea of the oneness of life and its environment is of particular interest to environmental ethics. As used by Ikeda, the term environment does not denote the whole natural world; rather, it refers to the fact that each living being has its own unique environment.” In this sense, the formation of one's environment coincides with that person's birth into this world” (Ikeda 1994, p. 144). Thus, on the most fundamental level, life and environment, sentient beings and nonsentient beings, are inseparable (Ikeda 1994). Ikeda explains the Japanese term for this concept, esho funi, as follows: shō is short for shōhō, which refers to the individual life; e stands for ehō, the environment, which supports the individual. Funi means “two but not two,” referring to the impossibility of separating the two, individual and environment. The individual life influences its environment but at the same time is dependent on it (Toynbee and Ikeda 1982). To explain, Ikeda uses the analogy of a body and its shadow: The body creates the shadow, and when the body moves, the shadow changes. But in a sense the shadow also creates the body, because the absence of the shadow means that there is no bodily form. Similarly, the individual receives form and identity through the environment, and vice versa (Ikeda 1982). The functioning of internal cause, latent effect, external cause, and manifest effect forms an intricate network of relationships between the individual and its surroundings. The manifest effect produced by the factors of internal cause, external condition, and latent effect is exhibited both in the individual life and in its environment.
As human beings, we shape our environment, but we are also products of our environment. According to Ikeda, this dialectic is vital for understanding the interrelationships between human existence and the environment. Because individual life and environment are inseparable, the state of the environment is a reflection of the minds of the people who inhabit it. Environmental degradation is thus a reflection of people's ignorance of the true nature of life and the cosmos: the interrelatedness of all things. Actions based on ignorance of the interrelatedness of all phenomena result in a downward spiral of negativity. It gives rise to greed, which drives people to seek the fulfillment of their desires at the cost of others and to seek the destruction of a situation in which their own desires are frustrated. This greed goes beyond the individual level, creating economic disparities between people and countries on a global scale. The avarice of the industrialized nations has deprived people in developing countries of the conditions by which their basic needs can be met, and the greed of the human race is undermining the right of other living beings to exist. Awareness of the fabric of relatedness, on the other hand, gives rise to the desire for mutually supportive coexistence with others and with the natural environment.
Ikeda explains that this dialectic relationship between human beings and the environment means that humans must maintain the supporting energy of the environment. Life cannot flourish in an environment that is altered without maintaining its supporting energy, just as food that is eaten without digesting it does not nourish a body (Ikeda 1982).
This is not to say that the natural world does not exist independent of human beings, but that the environment of each individual is as much a product of the actions of the individual as the individual is a product of its environment.
And if we wish to describe the mutual relations that exist between human beings and the environment in these terms, we would say that the living self depends upon the environment for its existence. That is, human beings depend on the workings of the environment or natural ecological conditions for their growth and development. And conversely, as indicated by the statement above that “without life there is no environment,” the environment must wait for the activities of human beings in order to take on a particular shape or undergo changes. Human beings thus play a key role in the creation of a particular environment, and must bear the responsibility for such creation. (Xianlin et al. 2001, p. 19)
According to Ikeda, dependent origination, the interdependency of all things and all phenomena, manifests the ordering principle of the cosmos. The failure to recognize the interdependence and interrelatedness of all life is a fundamental delusion, leading to a self-destructive egocentrism that severs the strands of the web of life that support one's own existence. Awareness of the interrelated nature of life, on the other hand, enables a person to overcome instinctive self-love in order to maintain an empathic relationship with others (i.e., other people, other living beings, and nature).
The challenge for environmental ethics is to find a solid rational justification for why nature should be protected from human actions. Arguments that stress the instrumental value other species have for humans provide “practical muscle for conservation where it counts, on the ground” (Myers 1979a). However, arguments based on instrumental value imply that it is the conservationist's responsibility to prove that such value exists. Although the conservation of nature in general is widely considered valuable, conservationists find that in practice they have to fight the same battles again and again to protect wild species from harm. There is a perceived need to express the value of wild species in objectively measurable economic terms that can be employed as incentives for wildlife conservation or as arguments against land uses that are harmful to wildlife. This assumption is underpinned by a negative view of humanity, in that it assumes that people in themselves will not conserve nature unless it is clearly to their direct benefit. Humans and nature are seen as being in profound conflict with each other. The concept of the wildlife conservationist is that of a resource manager whose job is to manage natural resources for the benefit of people, but who is fighting an ongoing battle to prove the value of this work.
The existence of intrinsic value in nature, on the other hand, would free conservationists of the obligation to prove that there is value in conserving a particular species. Although it is generally accepted that human life is intrinsically valuable, the possibility of intrinsic value in nonhuman life forms a large part of the environmental ethics debate. Extensionist approaches, which aim to define moral criteria on which such value can be based, are problematic for wildlife managers because they consider individual organisms, not species and ecosystems. By drawing directly from ecological concepts rather than from a human-centered frame of reference, philosophers such as Leopold, Rolston, and others call for a rethinking of our moral framework. Nonetheless, biocentric approaches to environmental ethics can be seen as implying the prioritization of nonhuman life over human life, thus sharpening the dichotomy between humans and the natural environment. The human-versus-nature dualism that underpins both the instrumental and the intrinsic value approaches is unhelpful to wildlife conservation and management, which are concerned with balancing both social and environmental goals.
It is not surprising that the endeavor of providing a rational ethical foundation for conservation is proving difficult, considering that the Western worldview, which has become increasingly influential on a global scale, has for centuries seen the conquest and subjection of nature as its greatest challenge. In contrast, the traditional Eastern view sees humanity as part of nature, not as a rival (Ikeda 1994, p. 144). Ikeda suggests that the differing attitudes toward nature may be grounded in the differences between the Eastern and Western views of life itself.
In the tradition of Buddhist thought, Ikeda's exposition of the theories of dependent origination and the oneness of life and its environment transcends the man–nature dualism. This approach provides a bridge between environmental ethics and the resolution of practical environmental problems. Ikeda's work does not in itself constitute an environmental ethic. However, the concepts of dependent origination and the oneness of life and environment provide an ample platform for developing such an ethic. To Ikeda, ethics are not a matter of timeless rules that can be applied to particular situations. Rather, ethics depend on a sensitivity toward the principle of dependent origination. Consequently, Ikeda's aim is not the development of an abstract theory but rather the empowerment of the individual to lead “a contributive way of life…based on an awareness of the interdependent nature of our lives—of the relationships that link us to others and our environment” (Ikeda 2002).
The modern conservation paradigm, conservation for and with people, requires that we overcome the dualism of human versus nature, which creates antagonism between conservationists and other people. Ikeda's philosophy provides a basis for a conservation philosophy that sees the conservationist not as a defender of the natural world against the harmful impact of human actions but as one who realizes the interdependences both between people and between people and nature, and who strives to awaken such awareness in others in order to achieve a better future for all.
Tim Dunne, Les Underhill, David Benatar, John Paterson, and Liz Komen read earlier drafts of this paper.
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What is ‘Flora and Fauna’?
The planet Earth is a beautiful place to live in. Life has flourished on the planet, thanks to the bountiful sun and vast oceans of water. No matter where we go on the planet, there are stunning plants, flowers and animals that catch are attention. They are two very important aspects of any eco-system. Of all the living organisms on the planet, the most commonly seen by us are the plant life and the animal life. Apart from these two, more forms of life abound in the earth, but are harder to see with the naked eye. This is why the flora and fauna i.e. plant and wildlife of the earth are fascinating to observe and study.
In this technological era, humans interact more with gadgets that it’s almost impossible to find time to interact with nature. When vacation period knocks, they make up for that by traveling to exotic locations to trek through untamed trails, or just drive to see an army of fearless animals. This is enabled by flora and fauna spread across different parts of the world.
Flora and fauna are words originating from Latin. Flora in Latin means goddess of the flower. Flora is also derived from the word floral, which means relating to flowers. Therefore flora is a group of indigenous plants in an ecosystem of a geographical region. The origin of the word fauna is a bit shrouded in mystery. According to Roman mythology, Fauna refers to the goddess of fertility. Fauna is sometimes referred to as Fauns, meaning forest spirits. By definition, fauna is a group of indigenous animals of any geographical region.
So, the term flora and fauna was coined by biologists to refer to a collection of plant and animal specifies in a given geographic location. This is why you hear phrases like flora and fauna of India, flora, and fauna of Indonesia and so on.
What is Flora?
Flora is the name given to the collective plant life that grows or once grew in a certain area or during a given time period. It usually refers to the native plant life present but does include new species that have been introduced as well. The flora and fauna of the earth have names derived from Latin.
In the language, ‘Flora’ was a goddess of flowers and plants. In the Roman mythology, she was the goddess of fertility. And so, the plant kingdom came to be known as Flora. The study of the plant life around the world is very interesting since is makes different classifications of the flora.
Plant life on the earth can be distinguished from each other in a number of ways. The simplest is to divide on the basis of region. Plants that grow specifically in the mountains will be very different from those that grow in the desert. Similarly, the plants that have adapted to living underwater are treated as a unique form of flora. Scientists can also study ‘Fossil Flora’, which comprises of plant life that was found in pre-historic times. The current flora and fauna of the earth is also divided on the basis of the environment in which it is grown or seen naturally.
When we talk about ‘Native Flora’, we are referring to the plant life that is indigenous to a particular region. Cacti are the native flora of deserts all over the world. They can grow in most weather conditions but are native to the sandy dunes of deserts. When we refer to ‘Agricultural Flora’, we are talking about plant life that has been grown by humans for a certain purpose.
They may or may not be native, but are used by humans for their own needs. Similarly there is ‘Garden Flora’ or ‘Horticultural Flora’, which are plants grown for decorative purposes. And then we have the ‘Weed Flora’, which are plants that are either undesirable in certain areas or invasive within the native plant life.
What is Fauna?
Fauna on the other hand, is the name given to collective animal life that lives or was once found in a certain area or time period. In Latin, Fauna is derived from three different sources. Fauna by itself was the name of a Roman goddess representing fertility and the earth and Faunus was another Roman god. And then there were Fauns, which were known to be forest spirits.
Both the flora and fauna of the earth have been given sub-divisions. Fauna is also distinguished in many different ways. However, these ways are much more complex than floral divisions because animal life has evolved into many different forms.
To begin with, the animal kingdom by itself is Fauna. However, within it we have the ‘Avifauna’ that refers to the birds and ‘Piscifauna’ referring to the fish. These are simpler classifications, since they do not cover small single celled organisms such as bacteria and virus. They also do not account for the microscopic organisms that abound in nature but cannot be seen by the human eye. Such animal life is known as ‘Microfauna’. Much of the flora and fauna of the earth can be seen, but there is a very large percentage that has yet to be named and even discovered.
This is why classifications such as ‘Cryptofauna’ arise, which refers to animals that are extremely rare and may even be mythological. There are also ‘Microfauna’, which refers to the extremely small animals and ‘Megafauna’, that talks about the large animals we usually see.
Planet earth has been blessed in more ways than one. We have complex ecological systems that not only provide us with resources, but make the world a more beautiful place to live in. Little of this would be possible without the varying flora and fauna of the earth.
Importance of Flora and Fauna
Maintains ecological balance
Without flora and fauna, humans cannot exist. The flora generates and releases oxygen, which is needed by the fauna for respiratory purposes. In return, the fauna produces and releases carbon dioxide, which is needed by the flora for photosynthesis. It’s a symbiotic kind of relationship. In the same line, humans cannot get by without both flora and fauna. The oxygen that we breathe in comes from the flora, and the carbon dioxide we exhale is vital for the flora.
Also, humans benefit a lot from flora and fauna in regards to sources of food, medicine, and water. Our main source of food emanates from plant and animal species. Over 90% of medicine we use to cure diseases comes from flora. If it were not for the flora, there would be no water, which means we would not exist right now.
Animals also maintain the equilibrium across the board by predating on plants and other animals that could have otherwise exploded in regards to population. They also enable other rare species of plants to mushroom by pollinating other plants. Animal droppings is a source of fertilizer for plants. When animals die, they act as supplemental mineral for plants. Also, microorganisms on the Earth’ surface benefit from abundance of food as a result of animal droppings.
It’s a no-brainer that humans love and appreciate nature. Many like spending time in outdoor settings such as forests, natural areas, parks and other green spaces because of their aesthetic value. This aesthetic value is mainly contributed by spread of flora and fauna. Statistics tell the story, each year, up to half a billion people visit beautiful protected sceneries like national parks, recreation areas, indigenous forests, historic sites, wildlife refuges and wild and scenic rivers to experience the beauty of the landmarks. This further underlines the significance of flora and fauna to our day to day lives.
Expands local economies
Flora and fauna contribute mightily to most world economies regarding tourism. For example, flora and fauna of Amazon attract numerous scientists and explorers. It’s estimated that the Amazon rainforest contributes about $50 million dollars to the Brazil economy. Exotic vacation locations like the Caribbean, Bahamas, Panama, Indonesia and so on attract more tourists than any country due to the widespread flora and fauna.
Examples of Flora
It’s a flora that falls under the species of flowering plants in the spurge family. It originates in northern South America and southern North America. It bears grapes that can result in rashes if you’re wet. It’s not advisable to shelter under it when it rains since it produces milk that causes burns and blisters. Also, desist from eating its fruits as they cause the same effects to your mouth and throat.
Giant redwood trees
We are used to the typical trees growing in our city parks or neighborhoods. Some species of fauna exist that grow to astronomical heights. The Giant redwood tree is a classic example. This kind of tree is considered the largest and tallest on earth. In fact, one specimen registered well above 350 feet tall.
Giant redwood trees are native to the north coast of California. The conditions here that include humid and rainy weather encourage such astronomical growths. The nature of these tree species growth allows roads near the Sequoia National Park to snake through them. The canopy of these trees provides home for a wide range of bird species. The forest below harbors most animal species.
Giant redwood trees and Machineel tree are photosynthetic; which means they manufacture their own food from the sun rays. However, other kinds of flora take a lot more proactive approach to developing their own food. Nepenthe is a typical example. It’s classified under the family of pitcher plants and originates from the jungles of Borneo. These floras have adapted leaves, which form a huge pitcher structure. The pitcher contains sweet smelling liquid meant to attract insects and even some minute frog species. The insects and frogs drop inside the pitcher, but coming out becomes impossible due to the smooth, slippery sides of the pitcher. The pitcher also contains digestive juices that immediately begin to act and digest the insects and frogs, enabling the plant to benefit from nutrients not present in the soil.
Welwitschia Mirabilis is one plant species that doesn’t like rain. It’s native to the Namib Desert and thrives in the driest conditions on the planet. Oddly enough, it only features 2 large leaves that wrap around it depicting a wilted or dry plant. Despite its less attractive nature, this plant species is capable of living for more than 1500 years. This is possible due to its characteristic deep root system that can tap underground water even in the driest conditions.
Examples of Fauna
You might be surprised to see coral in this list. Apart from typical furry mammals such as bears and wolves, aquatic animals like corals, most insects on land and jellyfish make up the fauna. Coral reefs are the eye-catching colored landscapes beneath the ocean surface. On sight, you might think they are plants, but they are animal species constituting the fauna of the ocean. Corals are immobile animals, and so they feed by picking out prey that swims by, for example, the zooplankton. An example of a coral is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which is the largest natural coral on the globe. It harbors thousand of flora and fauna in warm shallow water in proximity to the equator.
This animal species features an olive to dark brown body and wrapped with many small warts over its body. It also has a black and white marbled look around its belly. The Southern Toadlet thrives in damp habitats such as drainage lines, woodlands, scrubland, dry forests, and grassland. This animal species is native to the south-east of South Australia, south Victoria, and eastern Tasmania.
Eltham copper butterfly
It is an endangered species of butterfly. Eltham area in Victoria supports a greater population of this kind of butterfly. This butterfly species was initially discovered near Eltham in 1938. It was later thought to be extinct in the 1950s. The Eltham Copper butterfly is small yet glittering species of butterfly coupled with bright copper coloring above its wings. The copper coloring makes it clearly visible in the course of summer flight season.
There are hundreds of thousands of flora and fauna species across the globe. Flora and fauna bring out the true beauty of planet earth and enables humans to experience two separate worlds in one. The fact flora and fauna contribute to a well-balanced ecosystem; it’s only natural that we take steps to preserve them to enjoy their benefits to the end of time.
Image credit: donsutherland1 , Ollie_57
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
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