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What is Species Abundance?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Species abundance is the study of how common a particular species is in a given community. This kind of research is popular in the field of macroecology. Environmental researchers use studies on the abundance of a species to help build a picture of overall biodiversity in an area.

Scientists refer to the idea of species populations as “relative species abundance” because they are studying species population in a community or habitat relative to other species and other habitats. Species abundance is applied to mammal species as well as birds, insects, and other creatures. It can even be applied to plants. Looking at species abundance and other aspects of biodiversity help scientists to figure out what is going on within a particular ecological environment.

In practical terms, studies on species abundance might lead to a particular type of animal being labeled as an endangered species. If the population estimates are low enough, the species might be labeled a critically endangered species. This will generate some specific laws in many nations protecting the remaining population from hunting, poaching or even habitat encroachment.

Because studies on abundance might use small areas as ecological environments, this kind of research might lead to a local law about protecting a species habitat. Often, these laws end up affecting local development or renovation of an existing human commercial or residential area. When this happens, scientists have to work with public officials to explain the problem to local residents, developers, or anyone else with an interest in local human systems. Some developers and others might not have much of an interest in animal habitats, and in these cases, local laws are the sole defense of an endangered species.

In the greater global context, species abundance research helps ensure that some of the world’s most interesting animals and creatures continue to exist. Extinction faces a lot of species every year, and most ecologists would say that biodiversity is not thriving relative to its historic levels. More detailed work on species abundance will show exactly what is happening to all of the world’s various animal and insect species, and what results that might have for the human community, and the biosphere as a whole. That’s why governments sometimes fund species abundance research and pay attention to what scientists come up with, even though it might not always be popular with the local constituency.

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Discussion Comments
By TreeMan — On Jun 11, 2012

@cardsfan27 - But your opinion only considers the known, tangible value of a species. As I am sure you know, the Supreme Court decisions basically state that there is also nonmonetary worth of species and there may also be future value of a species.

I feel that even if a species doesn't benefit any organism directly, it still has a reason to be kept alive. What is to say that 20 years down the line the fish you were talking about isn't found to have some sort of oil in it that can be used to treat a new disease? That is basically the argument that has stood up so far. I think it is really good that we have laws like that to protect our species.

What I am not familiar with, though, is how other countries handle endangered species. I know some countries try to protect things like elephants and tigers, but what about tiny animals. I would be interested to know if anyone is familiar with other countries' laws and how people feel about the Endangered Species Act.

By cardsfan27 — On Jun 11, 2012

@matthewc23 - I am going to have to disagree with you about the Endangered Species Act being a good idea. I understand that preventing species extinction is important in some cases, but it has gotten too out of hand, in my opinion.

Basically, animal species are put on the list by the US Fish and Wildlife Service based on their estimated population and whether they are in danger of going extinct if they are not protected. I will admit that the process is pretty stringent in most cases, and they aren't frivolous about listing species. They really do have to be in danger. The real question is whether or not the abundance of certain species really matters.

From reading the Act itself, I believe the original lawmakers mostly meant to protect major species that may have some sort of value to humans. They didn't mean tiny, insignificant fish and insects they live in one pond in central Maine. Over time, though, the Supreme Court has let the law apply to anything any everything no matter how inconsequential its loss would be.

By matthewc23 — On Jun 10, 2012

@Izzy78 - You are right. Insects are by far the most common animals. I know there are at least a million species, and scientists think they may be several million more that haven't been found. That always seems incredible to me considering how much time people spend looking for new animals.

As far as counting the number of animals goes, I would say it all relies on surveying. I am not an expert in the field, but I would say counting animals works the same way as estimating who may win in an election. If you just go out and set traps, depending on the number of animals that get caught in the traps, you can make assumptions about how many more animals are living in the wild that you didn't catch.

I have also wondered about how endangered species are classified. I know in the US we have the Endangered Species Act, but I don't know how it works. Either way, I think it is great that we have a law in place to protect animals whose populations may be declining.

By Izzy78 — On Jun 09, 2012

So, what types of animals are the most common in the world? I am pretty sure I remember hearing from a couple of places that insects are the most common overall, and that makes sense, because they are everywhere. After that, though, what is next?

Whenever scientists want to figure out species distribution or how many of a certain species there are, how do they go about it? Surely they can't go out and just start counting animals, can they? I go hiking all the time, and I know there are tons of deer and other animals around, but I hardly ever see them. It would be impossible for someone to go out and be able to find every animal.

Once the scientists do their counts, how do they determine whether an animal is endangered or not and whether it should be protected from hunting?

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