Roles of Seed Banks & Zoos in Conservation (Edexcel International A Level Biology)

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Conservation of Endangered Species

  • When species go extinct it leads to an overall decrease in biodiversity
  • In recent times many species have already gone extinct, while others are endangered
  • An endangered species is a species that is being threatened with extinction
  • It is therefore important that these species are conserved to prevent them from going extinct
  • Conservation of endangered species can be approached in several different ways
  • Ideally a species should be kept in their natural habitat, as all the support systems they need to maintain life already exist there
    • National parks and marine parks are examples of conservation methods that do this
  • When it is not possible to do this endangered species can be captured and placed in captivity for conservation efforts
    • Zoos and botanic gardens take part in conservation programmes
  • Scientists have also come up with several methods to try and ensure the long-term survival of endangered species through frozen zoos and seed banks
  • Conservation of species refers to protecting and managing them for future generations

Seed banks

  • A seed bank is a facility that conserves plant diversity by drying and storing seeds in a temperature-controlled environment
  • Usually, seeds of the same species are collected from different sites to maintain genetic diversity
  • If the plant species goes extinct then the seeds can be used to grow them again
  • Seeds can only be stored for so long. After a certain period of time the stored seeds are grown into plants and fresh seeds for storage are taken from those plants
  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway has almost 1 million species of plant seed. It is located in the Arctic Circle, within ideal environmental conditions
  • Many organisations send seeds from crop plants to be stored there for safekeeping
  • Some plants have seeds that can not be frozen such as coffee and cocoa plants
    • In order to preserve the genetic diversity of these plants successive generations must be grown or tissue cultures taken
  • There are advantages and disadvantages of using seed banks
  • Seed banks make valuable contributions to scientific research
    • It provides an opportunity to investigate how to successfully grow plants from seeds
    • They provide a stock of endangered plants that could be useful to humans (e.g. medicinal plant species, crop plant species) taking pressure off of wild populations
  • It is important to note, however, that data gathered from seed banks may not be representative of wild populations due to the small, genetically limited, sample size
  • Seed banks also educate people about endangered species and increase interest in conserving these species
    • For example, people can be trained to set up local seed banks, which involves the community

Advantages & Disadvantages of Seed Banks Table



  • Zoos can also contribute to the conservation of endangered animal species
  • Captive breeding programmes can breed individuals of a species so their offspring can be released into the wild
  • Zoos are an invaluable resource for scientific research
    • Scientists are able to closely study animal’s genetics, behaviours and habitat needs
  • There are some problems with zoos and their role in conservation:
    • Captive breeding of small species populations can reduce genetic diversity
    • Certain animal species will not breed in captivity
    • Not all zoos can provide adequate habitats for animals with specific needs
    • Many people question the ethics of keeping animals in captivity
  • There are stories of both success and failure when it comes to zoos and conservation:
    • The oryx is an antelope-like species that was saved from extinction and reintroduced into the wild in Africa thanks to zoos and captive breeding programmes
    • Pandas have been in captive breeding programs for over 60 years and not a single panda has been reintroduced into the wild
  • Zoos make a valuable contribution to scientific research in a variety of ways:
    • They provide information about the specific needs (behavioural, physiological, nutritional) of different animal species, which aids conservation efforts in the wild
    • They can carry out studies that would be very difficult to do in wild populations
  • Animals in zoos may not behave the same way they would in the wild, so this raises questions about the reliability of the data from some zoo-based studies
  • Zoos contribute to educating people about endangered species by bringing them close to these organisms and increasing public enthusiasm for, and public engagement with, conservation efforts

Advantages & Disadvantages of Zoos Table


Reintroduction back into the wild

  • Plants and animals from these facilities can be released back into their natural habitat, which holds certain benefits:
    • This will help prevent them from going extinct in the wild
    • Organisms that rely on these plants and animals for food or habitat may also benefit from their presence
    • This contributes toward restoring lost or degraded habitats
  • Reintroduction may have some negative effects too:
    • These organisms may carry new diseases that will harm other organisms living in that habitat
    • Reintroduced animals may lack the ability to find food or communicate effectively with members of their own species

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Author: Marlene

Marlene graduated from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, in 2002 with a degree in Biodiversity and Ecology. After completing a PGCE (Postgraduate certificate in education) in 2003 she taught high school Biology for over 10 years at various schools across South Africa before returning to Stellenbosch University in 2014 to obtain an Honours degree in Biological Sciences. With over 16 years of teaching experience, of which the past 3 years were spent teaching IGCSE and A level Biology, Marlene is passionate about Biology and making it more approachable to her students.

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