Human exploitation of fragile plant communities and ecosystems has been occurring in recent times at an accelerating pace. In general, worldwide loss of habitat has resulted from human overpopulation, global warming, resource extraction, creeping agricultural developments (especially on marginal lands), extensive use of herbicides (as in Vietnam), construction of highways, desertification, fire, flooding/tsunamis, alien invasive species, and disease/insect attacks. This is happening in tropical rain forests worldwide due, in particular, to habitat destruction from mining, removal of forest trees through cutting and the use of fire, livestock overgrazing, and farming. In temperate regions the predominant causes are clear-cutting of forests, collecting wood from trees and shrubs for fuel, overgrazing by livestock, mining, damming river systems, and allowing urban sprawl to replace forest ecosystems. In Arctic regions, ecosystem destruction is the result of massive clear-cuts of boreal forests for pulpwood for paper manufacture, lumber, and wood products.
The Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. has successfully documented these calamities over the past two decades. Unfortunately, their prognosis is not good for the future regarding the Earth’s natural resources. Humans, with their burgeoning populations, continue to be engaged, despite sufficient warning, in overly exploitive activities that squander natural products that occur in vast ecosystems. As a result, the population is living way beyond the carrying capacity in many regions of the planet.
The purpose of this chapter is to point out ways which might reverse this trend. Critical considerations involve preserving natural and wilderness areas; commitment to sustainable harvesting of plants in these ecosystems; saving rare, threatened, and endangered species of plants in “gene banks,” seed banks, tissue culture banks, nurseries, botanical gardens and arboreta, and parks and shrines; and cultivating plants in an ecologically friendly way. Following these strategies, the supply of natural products of medicinal value obtained from plants will be available in perpetuity and, at the same time, help to provide a livelihood for many people who depend upon these products for their income.
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