Unlike most scientific fields, conservation biology rests on an explicit ethical principle: biological diversity is valuable in itself, irrespective of the economic or practical value particular species. A corollary is that untimely extinction of populations or species is bad. The highest priority of conservation biology is to design and establish viable parks in the tropics, where options for preserving biological diversity are quickly being fore closed.

Some pioneering projects in conservation biology are already reshaping scientists' ideas about extinction and its consequences. In the Amazon Basin near Manaus, Brazil, the World Wildlife Fund and Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research launched the Minima.! Critical Size of Eco systems project in 1979. Brazilian law re quires that 50 percent of the land in new cattle ranches remain forested; researchers worked with local ranchers as they cleared grazing land to create a set of forest reserves ranging in size from 1 to...

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