NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Is Biological Treasure Trove

March 16, 2000

In the most complete and detailed study of species in the U.S., the Nature Conservancy has found twice as many native species of plants, animals and other wildlife than had previously been thought. The nation was also found to harbor a more varied array of ecological systems than any other large country.

"Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States," is a book written by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the Association for Biodiversity Information (ABI). Among their findings:

  • The U.S. ranks sixth worldwide in the number of species of mammals -- with 416 species out of 4,600 worldwide.
  • We host 768 species of birds out of a worldwide total of 9,700 known species.
  • Out of 8,400 known species of freshwater fish worldwide, the U.S. has 799.
  • The U.S. is host to 15,320 species of flowering plants out of 235,000 worldwide.

Altogether, there are more than 200,000 species of plants, animals and other wild things within U.S. borders.

According to the study, as many as one-third of the country's species are considered imperiled to one degree or another.

The inventory was conducted over the past 25 years by the conservancy's natural heritage network -- made up of survey centers in all 50 states. But until now, the information had never been pulled together to form a portrait of the status of wild America.

The conservancy is also undertaking a five-year, $1 billion effort to preserve large tracts of American wildernesses. It is said to be the largest amount of money ever devoted to a conservation campaign by a private organization.

Source: William K. Stevens, "U.S. Found to Be a Leader in Its Diversity of Wildlife," New York Times, March 16, 2000.


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