The realization that parks and preserves, like islands, can never be large enough dates from at least the 1960s with Frank Preston’s “The Canonical Distribution of Commonness and Rarity,” published in two parts in the journal Ecology in 1962. Preston concluded that it’s not possible for isolated preserves to maintain the species of the entire ecosystem the preserves were intended to represent.

The seminal work of Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson followed in The Theory of Island Biogeography published in 1967, which brought attention to species extinction as a result of habitat fragmentation, similar to the isolated habitat of islands. Michael Soulé and Bruce Wilcox convened the first international conference on conservation biology in 1978 and edited the conference proceedings, Conservation Biology, An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective, published in 1980. The proceedings reinforced the idea that even the largest existing reserves may be too small for the long-term preservation of its species.

David Quammen brilliantly explained the problem in The Song of the Dodo, Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, published in 1996. “An ecosystem is a tapestry of species and relationships,” he says. “Chop away a section, isolate that section, and there arises the problem of unraveling.”

In the decades since have seen a flood of research and documentation confirming the theory of island biogeography with its application to parks and preserves, islands in a sea of human development. Scientists and conservationists have since taken up the role of on-the-ground efforts to reestablish ecosystem resiliency by linking preserves and parks with migration corridors, allowing populations of fauna and flora to move between preserves to maintain healthy genetic populations and respond to imminent climate change. Such efforts are not centered on creating larger parks that encompass an entire migration to the exclusion of humans, but rather a way for humans and wildlife to coexist, accompanied by shifts in economies from resource extraction to sustainable harvesting, agriculture/ranching, and outdoor recreation.


Preston, F.W., “The Canonical Distribution of Commonness and Rarity: Parts I and II,” Ecology, vol. 43, no. 2 and 3, 1962, pp. 185-215 and 410-432.

MacArthur, Robert H., and Edward O. Wilson. The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Soulé, Michael E., and Bruce A. Wilcox, editors. Conservation Biology, An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective. Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1980.

Quammen, David. The Song of the Dodo, Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1996.

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