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"Zoos should be transformed into a kind of "Noah's arks" to protect endangered species."

Full Professor Luis Herrera spoke about biological diversity during the opening ceremony of the University's academic year.

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Luis Herrera PHOTO: Manuel Castells

"In the coming years, it will be necessary to decide whether zoos should be maintained as places with animals that visitors want to see or with those that could disappear. Modern zoos will thus be transformed into a kind of 'Noah's arks', as the last refuge for endangered species". This was stated by Luis Herrera, Full Professor of Zoology at the University of Navarra, during the reading of the inaugural lecture of academic year of the year 2014-2015, on "Biological Diversity".

"The planet is facing an accelerated modification of its ecosystems and the irreversible loss of its valuable biodiversity," the professor explained. Environmental pollution, road construction, poaching, overfishing and climate change are some of the causes of this problem, he said. In fact, the set of climate modifications influences populations "favoring a shift of vegetation strips and desertification processes. Some species persist, but others migrate and others disappear".

Likewise, the appearance of invasive alien species (IAS) is also an increasing threat. "The river systems and reservoirs of the Iberian Peninsula are affected by IAS. As of 2000, 21 fish species had been introduced, of which 13 are considered invasive." 

Nature conservation banks

Against this backdrop, it is necessary to "apply the knowledge and technologies available to conserve biodiversity". Some ways to achieve this are the declaration of protected areas, such as the network Natura 2000 in Europe; or in Spain, the recent Law of Environmental assessment , which includes nature conservation banks as a voluntary mechanism to restore net losses of natural values.

The expert emphasized that these banks are a particularly relevant instrument for conserving biodiversity. They implement "a project for the creation, improvement and restoration of the environment. The initiative generates an increase in the environmental value of the land that is traded in the form of environmental credits to restore damage to ecosystems".

He also referred to botanical gardens, which cultivate more than 80,000 species worldwide, a quarter of plant biodiversity, as well as to nature conservation programs, which are key to halting the disappearance of endangered species such as the brown bear, the Iberian lynx, the capercaillie, the Pyrenean desman or the bearded vulture in Spain.

During his speech, the Full Professor presented slides to illustrate some of the issues discussed. Among them, there were images from Navarra such as the beech forest of the Bértiz Natural Park or the Irati forest as sample of biodiversity; the desert soil of the Bardenas Reales as a consequence of climate change; the Urbasa Natural Park or the reservation Integral de Larra as environmental protection, among others.  

Professor Luis Herrera is graduate in Biological Sciences from the University of La Laguna and PhD from the University of Navarra. He was Associate Professor of Biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, extended programs of study at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München as scholarship recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and as Visiting Scholar at the University of Munich and the University of Bonn. Recently has been recognized by the Cabildo de la Gomera.. In addition, he has received the award Humboldt in Limnology for his research applied to the knowledge of an aquatic ecosystem and invented an innovative numerical nomenclature system for the file of species at the Zoological Museum of the University of Navarra.