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Habitat loss is the greatest single problem that effects population declines of rare wildlife.
Extinct & Extirpated Species of NJ
New Jersey was once home to many more species than are here today. Extinction and extirpation have robbed the state of much of its natural heritage. However, by examining what species we've lost and the reasons why they disappeared, we may learn from mistakes of the past to avoid future losses.
Extinction is a natural part of life. Without it, life on Earth would be unable to adapt to changing conditions on our planet. As time moves forward, some species adapt to changing climate, geographic, or oceanographic conditions as well as changing availability of prey and the presence of predators and competitors. Those species which are unable to adapt will become extinct.
EXTINCT: The end of a species; when a species dies out completely, it is classified as extinct.
If not for extinction, we would be living in a world populated with everything from trilobites to dinosaurs to woolly mammoths, as well as every other species which has ever inhabited the planet. However, the conditions on our planet today are not suitable for a large number of the species which existed in the past. Species which occur on Earth today are here because they have found a way to survive in today’s environment.
Evidence of many species which have become extinct in New Jersey can be found within the state’s geologic past. Dinosaurs such as hadrosaurus and dryptosaurus once roamed the state. Ancient large mammals such as mastodons also occurred in New Jersey. Although extinction is a natural part of life on Earth, the rate of species extinction has increased within the past few centuries due to human pressures on natural habitats and wildlife.
Native Americans lived in what is now New Jersey long before Europeans arrived. It is unknown whether these early inhabitants of the state were responsible for the disappearance of some of the large prehistoric mammals, such as mastodons, which once lived here. What we do know, however, is that within approximately the last 400 years (since New Jersey began to be colonized by Europeans), numerous species of wildlife have become extinct within the state due to the activities of humans.
The following ten species' profiles provide information on species which once lived in New Jersey but are no longer found within the state. Five of those species are extinct, meaning that they no longer exist alive anywhere on the planet. The other five species are extirpated within New Jersey, meaning that, although they are no longer found within the state, they can still be found elsewhere. All ten of these species have disappeared from New Jersey only within the last 400 years, with one becoming extinct as recently as 1970.
EXTIRPATED: A local extinction; when a species no longer exists in a particular area, but still exists elsewhere.
Wildlife conservation attempts to avoid more species becoming extinct or extirpated. By creating lists of Endangered and Threatened species, wildlife biologists attempt to identify and prioritize those species which are most at risk of becoming extinct and then take action to protect them and restore their populations. There have been some successes – the Cooper’s hawk was once a Threatened species in New Jersey but has recovered. There have also been some losses, such as the species below.
Written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.
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