What is an endangered species?

 May 1997

Diamondback Terrapin Emmett Westbrook FotoFX

In North Carolina, diamondback terrapins are listed as species of special concern.

Basically, endangered means the species is in immediate peril of becoming extinct. Threatened means the species is declining and may eventually face extinction unless measures are taken to help it. In North Carolina, state laws include a section on species of special concern.

The destruction and alteration of habitat is by far the greatest cause of species extinction, and the least reversible. Other man-made threats to plants and animals include pollution of our land, air and water, overkill through excessive harvest, and introduction of a species from one ecosystem to another.

While scientists have identified some 1.75 million species on earth, it is believed that as many as 30 million species have yet to be discovered. Experts speculate that each day, at least one of these known species become extinct. Perhaps the most important steps we can take in preserving species diversity include research and education. The more we know about any form of life, the better prepared we are to protect it. Research can also help us identify new species before ecological pressures drive them into extinction.