Fish are friends, not foes

By Mollie McCulloch

At the mid-term conservation science conference on Tuesday 1st November 2016, Robert Giesler highlighted his concern towards the controversial issue of the endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus); a fish native to California’s delta. Over 80% of the State of California is currently experiencing moderate drought conditions which is the basis for the controversy; fish vs farmers.

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Map of the extent of drought across California on 10/11/2016. You can check out the most up-to-date figures right here:   http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/data/pngs/20161025/20161025_CA_trd.png

To overcome this drought, people (like the guy below) are arguing that the need for the redirection of rivers is crucial to irrigate fields to keeps crops alive for human consumption and to maximise profits. On the other hand, the diversion of water negatively impacts the ecosystems within the delta. The delta smelt may be small in size (5 to 7 inches) but they play a big role in stabilising community composition. To conserve or not conserve, that is the question.
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Protest in Fresno city where farmers and farmworkers rallied to turn the pumps on in the delta to allow irrigation to the farms in the western Central Valley of California.
(Photo credit: https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/08/01/18613597.php)
The California Delta and its endemic species, the delta smelt.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta encompasses 57 islands and a collection of fresh water channels. The delta is an essential source of fresh water for the surrounding agricultural area. The delta smelt is endemic to the area and has seen severe population reductions, raising concern to conservationists. The IUCN has listed the species as critically endangered.

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The decline of the delta smelt from 1967 to 2015 [1]
The decline in population is due to the pumping of water away from the delta to overcome the problems caused by drought in other areas of California [2]. So why is this species so important to conserve?

A small fish with big impacts;

Protecting the delta smelt has caused some controversy, mainly amongst farmers who are more concerned about their crop yield. Farmers support the decision that water should be redirected towards their farms to ensure the growth of crops and therefore profits. Farmers are even more frustrated with the fact that water restrictions to help conserve the smelt have diverted in the opposite direction; population numbers continue to decline year after year [1]. Despite all the arguments against the protection of the smelt, this little fish plays a big role in ecosystem stability.

The protection of the delta smelt does not just concern itself but can help to protect the wider ecosystem. The smelt is a good indicator species, providing information on the health of the ecosystem [3]. The extinction of the delta smelt would affect the balance of food webs as it is a key species in trophic interactions. The delta is a biodiversity hotspot in the eyes of conservationists [4], therefore has a high priority in conservation strategies to help maintain a high biodiversity. A key feature of conservation goals is to preserve biodiversity, therefore protecting the California delta must be considered in order to achieve this.

Fish or farmers; who wins?

This issue still causes controversy among California. In the eyes of conservationists, the California delta’s ecosystem is too precious to loose in terms of biodiversity but for farmers it is hard to see the importance of species protection, especially a fish as small as the delta smelt. For progress to be made, increased understanding of this important conservation issue is key to protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California.

References

  1. Dfg.ca.gov. (2016). Monthly Abundance Indices. [online] Available at: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/delta/data/fmwt/indices.asp [Accessed 10 Nov. 2016].
  1. Moyle, P., Herbold, B., Stevens, D. and Miller, L. (1992). Life History and Status of Delta Smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, California. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 121(1), pp.67-77.
  2. Hasenbein, M., Komoroske, L., Connon, R., Geist, J. and Fangue, N. (2013). Turbidity and Salinity Affect Feeding Performance and Physiological Stress in the Endangered Delta Smelt. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 53(4), pp.620-634.
  3. Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., Da Fonseca, G.A. and Kent, J. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403(6772), pp.853-858.

 

WIN-WIN OR LOSE-LOSE? EFFECTIVENESS OF MPA’S

By Jessica

Susan Kenyon from the University of Edinburgh presented her hot topic on marine protected areas (MPAs). The IUCN defines MPAs as ‘a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values’ (Day et al., 2012). The growth of marine protected areas in the past 10 years has been substantial with a fivefold increase globally (Palmquist, 2013). MPAs are predicted to continuously grow throughout the 21st century (see Figure 1). Susan argues win-win solutions for marine environments when socio-economic and ecological objectives are both met for small-scale reserves. To match objectives local communities need to be involved in the planning, establishment and management of marine parks. Avoiding local peoples displacement is crucial when implementing polices on local waters. Socio-economic objectives ensure MPAs do not affect welfare of locals and protection historical, cultural, tourism and education use value – among others (Kelleher and Kenchington, 1991). Ecological objectives are ‘safe-guarding’ the biodiversity present in the waters of the reserves.

 

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Figure 1. Recent increase of MPAs lead to a predicted increase in the global ocean area protected by the end of the 21st century (Wood et al., 2008).

 

MPAs have shown to be both effective and ineffective at different scales. The criticism applies more widely to large-scale reserves and networks of reserves due to a lack of management. This risks becoming a ‘paper-park’ which occurs when the objectives are not fulfilled (Fitzsimmons and Wescott, 2016). Small-scale reserves are more likely to be successful where locals are involved and management is consistent. Susan uses examples of successes (ie. Philippines and Panamda; Demesa et al., 2013; Stienitz et al., 2005; Samonte et al., 2010) and failures (ie. Indo-Pacific and Africa; Sunde & Isaacs, 2008; Cinner et al., 2014; Weigel et al., 2014) to explain importance of local involvement.

 

Two methods Susan proposes for small-scale MPAs to achieve a ‘win-win’ solution is via Locally Managed Marine Reserves (LMMR) and co-managed MPAs. There are different types of marine parks and at local scales these can be run solely by governments (normally in developed countries that can ‘afford’ them) or co-governed MPAs (who often provide a monetary sum that helps implement MPAs). LMMRs are a ‘bottom-up’ method where communities lead initiatives that support marine conservation whilst achieving benefits for local people. Samonte et al., (2010) state LMMR’s provide an increased income to fishers, diverse livelihoods and locally increased environmental awareness in the area. Co-managed MPAs, as a second solution, may be required where governments are unable to fund the establishment of the reserve. Local communities, local authorities and NGOs work together to plan, establish and manage these reserves. Regardless of the source of funding MPAs only prove effective when local involvement and continuous management occurs to ensure socio-economic and ecological objectives are met.

 

Therefore small-scale MPAs can turn into a lose-lose situation when local involvement and effective management are not present risking ‘paper-park’ status. However, MPAs can provide a win-win situation to marine conservation at small scales where objectives are met with community involvement.

 

LINKS – FURTHER READING:

MPA’s benefits and drawbacks:

http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/04/11/new-study-marine-protection-goals-are-on-target-but-still-not-enough/

MPA design:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v506/n7487/full/nature13022.html

Local involvement for more effective reserves:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X14001353

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kathleen_Schwerdtner_Manez/publication/231904074_Allies_not_aliens_increasing_the_role_of_local_communities_in_marine_protected_area_implementation/links/00b7d5265314e5cc48000000.pdf

REFERENCE LIST:

Cinner, J. et al., 2014. Winners and Losers in Marine Conservation: Fishers’ Displacement and Livelihood Benefits from Marine Reserves. Society and Natural Resources. 27(9), 994-1005.

Day, J. et al., 2012. Guidelines for applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas. Gland: IUCN.

Demesa, C.B. et al., 2013. Challenges and oppourtunities in adopting ecosystem-based adaption in restoring fisheries and coastal resources. Ecosystem Alliance. Partido, Camarines Sur, Phiippines.

Fitzsimmons, J., & Wescott, C., 2016. Big, Bold and Blue: Lessons from Australia’s Marine Protected Areas. Clayton: CSIRO Publishing.

Kelleher, G., & Kenchington, R., 1991. Guidelines for establishing marine protected areas. Gland: IUCN.

Palmquist, D., 2013. New Study: Marine Protection Goals Are on Target, But Still Not Enough. [Online]. [14 Nov 2016]. Available from: http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/04/11/new-study-marine-protection-goals-are-on-target-but-still-not-enough/

Samonte, G. et al., 2010. People and Oceans. Arlington: Science and Knowledge Division, Conservation International.

Stienitz, C. et al., 2005. A Delicate Balance: Conservation and Development Scenarios for Panama’s Coiba National Park. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. 47(5), 24-39.

Sunde, J., & Issacs, M., 2008. Marine conservation and coastal communities: who carries the costs? – A study of marine protected areas and their impact on traditional small-scale fishing communities in South Africa. Chennai: International Collective in Support of Fishworkers.

Weigel, J. et al., 2014. Marine protected areas and fisheries: bridging the divide. Aquatic conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 24(S2), 199-215.

Wood, L.J. et al., 2008. Assessing progress towards global marine protection shortfalls in information and action. Oryx. 42(3), 340-351.

 

 

 

Is The North America Rewilding mega-fauna, mega-flawed?

Firstly, what is rewilding?

Rewilding is a conservation idea that aims to restore the world to its natural state long before human activity changed the landscape.

How can it be used?

Rewilding can reintroduce key native species to areas where they have been wiped out. It can also be used to restore landscapes that may have been changed due to human activity.

Why use rewilding in North America?

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Photo by Geology.com

 

Over time North America has suffered a great decline in species, in particular large land mammals. In 2005, a proposal was made to rewild North America with species from the Pleistocene era, with a particular focus on mega-fauna including the African elephant.

 

What are the risks and problems?

 

  • The unknown impact of reintroduction could damage the current environment such as causing disease
  • Rewilding may restrict human access and development
  • There are high financial costs with unknown benefit

Future potential?

Rewilding may have the power to protect and improve the environment through attempts to restore the native environment. This means that reintroduction of key native species could lead to an increase of biodiversity – this would be fantastic for the environment!

Although it is an exciting idea and captures our imagination, there are many uncertainties in rewilding. This makes it an unlikely solution to protecting the environment as it could result in irreversible damage to other species. Unfortunately, rewilding seems like a bad idea in North America. Funding could perhaps be better spent on other conservation efforts. It would likely make more sense to focus on protecting mega-fauna that is already there.  We should focus on protecting North America’s existing species whilst focusing on ways for humans to live harmoniously with the environment.

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Photo by Chris Duncan Photography (2000)

 

 

Inglorious 12th: The True Cost of Tradition

The so-called ‘Glorious 12th’ of August marks the beginning of the 4-month-long grouse shooting season here in Scotland, an event where every year thousands of gun-toting, tweed-wearing, wealthy men and women take to the country’s uplands to practice the 150-year-old sport.

https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Money/Pix/pictures/2013/8/10/1376144375068/Grouse-shooting-007.jpg

Grouse shooters

Costing up to £50 000 for a two-day party, the industry brings in approximately £40 million to the rural economy in Scotland and provides jobs where other rural activities like sheep-farming have been barely scraping by [1].

Although being anthropogenic in origin, moorland habitats are of conservation value, providing habitats for many invertebrates and some breeding birds [2].

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A typical heather moorland

These have become degraded as a result of grouse moor management which is a deep-seated tradition amongst upland farmers and land owners despite its harmful consequences. Techniques used in grouse management are severely outdated in terms of biodiversity preservation. To maximise the amount of grouse per km2 landowners burn the heather to increase the younger new shoots for the grouse to eat whilst also draining the land to allow for heather to grow more readily. Muir-burn destroys nesting sites for birds and prevents afforestation and its associated diversity amongst many other things [3]. According to the ecologist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, muir-burn and drainage are a major contributor to downstream flooding and need to be regulated.

http://www.stackyard.com/news/2013/11/environment/muirburn.jpg

Muirburn

Predator control is also carried out by gamekeepers by poisoning and shooting often resulting in the indiscriminate killing of birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle (see below). Grouse moorlands are historically associated with illegal methods of predator control [4].

http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/posioned-golden-eagle.jpg

Illegal killing of a golden eagle

Additionally, disease is rife in the grouse populations due to their high densities. As a result Landowners put medication in their feed, a practice that has unknown consequences for the consumer of the meat [3].

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03245/red-grouse_3245924b.jpg

Grouse in a heather moorland

Unfortunately grouse shooting is protected by many lobbyists and wealthy investors within our government who seek to block any proposals to end these unsustainable practices. It would also be ridiculous to damage the rural economy in such a way. What is the answer? There isn’t one yet. It is clear however that we need a shift in our current practices to something more progressive. Rewilding projects, which involve large-scale habitat restoration, may provide alternative benefits for landowners like subsidies. Before any of this can be achieved though we must engage ourselves as a country with this debate and encourage a shift in our values towards nurturing the whole ecosystem.

https://goodanthropocenes.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/1024px-pinus_sylvestris_glen_affric.jpg

What a moorland might look like without heavy human intervention.

References

  1. Wightman, A. and Tingay, R., 2015. The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland.Commissioned and Published by the League Against Cruel Sports.
  2. Grant¹, M.C., Mallord, J., Stephen, L. and Thompson, P.S., 2012. The costs and benefits of grouse moor management to biodiversity and aspects of the wider environment: a review.
  3. Thompson, P.S., Douglas, D.J., Hoccom, D.G., Knott, J., Roos, S. and Wilson, J.D., 2016. Environmental impacts of high‐output driven shooting of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica.Ibis, 158(2), pp.446-452.
  4. Whitfield, D.P., McLeod, D.R., Watson, J., Fielding, A.H. and Haworth, P.F., 2003. The association of grouse moor in Scotland with the illegal use of poisons to control predators.Biological Conservation, 114(2), pp.157-163.

By Rebecca

 

Oh deer! Could apex predators save Scotland a million bucks?

Imagine your future holiday. You wouldn’t plan on walking through a degraded landscape or want a constant fear of disease ruining your trip, would you? Due to a rapid increase in red deer populations (Cervus elaphus), this becoming a harsh reality facing holidaymakers in Scotland. In the past deer were seen as a tourism highlight, however social, economic and environmental consequences of deer overabundance mean efficient and cost effective management strategies are required. Katie moved away from traditional methods and addressed the use of Apex predators as an option for controlling deer populations in Scotland.

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Red deer both dominate and degrade Scottish ecosystem

Picture a landscape without any deer. This was the case in the 1700s, when red deer were extinct in the Scottish lowlands. Fast forward to present day and this is hard to imagine as the species has seen a significant increase (75-80% since the 1960s), predominantly due to an increase in demand for deerstalking. Now overabundance is producing major ecological consequences, such as directly selective grazing which has altered and degraded plant communities. Higher deer densities have resulted in overgrazing, which have reduced forest regeneration and indirectly produced cascading effects on animal communities influencing bird densities2. From an economic perspective, grazing pressure has produced competition with livestock, in particular highland sheep farming, which has reduced income to the agricultural sector2. Human-deer conflicts continue as human health is directly affected by increased deer abundance, including a rise in road accidents3. Deer act a natural reservoir for diseases including lyme disease. Lyme disease is spread through ticks; if you get bitten by an infected tick it could prove fatal if left untreated4. Habitat monitoring has been used to assess the impacts of deer on ecosystems and as a tool for guiding management decisions.

Currently, deer populations are being actively managed through traditional strategies, however these are proving inefficient. Methods include culling: where a certain proportion of the population are shot5. This strategy requires a lot of manpower and is only successful when a certain amount of deer are killed5. The financial costs of hiring deer stalkers and shooting quality deer, disparity between neighbouring estates and migration of deer prove that this is not an effective management strategy5. Another widely used approach is trapping and relocating deer from high density areas to low density areas. In the past the movement of fallow deer (Dama dama), have increased incidences of car accidents6. Coupled with concerns over animal welfare, with this method proving highly stressful to deer and again the financial burden6, this method proves inefficient. Finally, fencing off areas such as woodland areas produce visual vegetative regeneration. The building and maintenance of fences can cost as high as £7.8 million and restricts other species movement.

wolf

Wolf reintroduction is an option for effective deer management

Current and past well known deer management techniques have proved inefficient. Regeneration of ecosystems will require controlling deer populations in a time and cost efficient sustainable way. You may not know that the use of Apex predators as a method for deer management is being considered as an option for controlling deer within Scotland. Once abundant in Scotland natural predators of deer including wolves (Canis lupus) which were eradicated by 1769 and lynx (Lynx lynx) over  13,000 years ago. Apex predators reduce populations to a sustainable level whilst providing other ecosystem benefits 7.

They can be described as a keystone species – meaning they directly affect trophic food webs, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning8. Success stories have occurred where wildlife researchers have reintroduced native predators including the classic example from Yellowstone National Park. Wolf reintroduction effectively reduced elk numbers whilst producing a trophic cascade. Reduced grazing pressure increased both animal and plant communities, producing a more diverse ecosystem8.

While this may seem like a feasible option, it has faced large opposition with the majority of that coming from residents and workers in the regions where the reintroductions are proposed. Estate land owners and managers are concerned that a reduction in deer populations would reduce the number of high quality deer, impairing the shooting industry and reducing estate income2. Conservationists are concerned that reintroduction would put native species at risk including the Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) through niche overlap 9. Finally, farmers are faced with reduced income, through threats of livestock attacks, in particular sheep herds10. By working with local estate managers, farmers and conservationist’s decision makers can overcome these issues and produce minimum impact of apex predator reintroduction.

Deer densities within Scotland have now reached an unsustainable level but populations continue to grow. Large abundances cause many damaging effects socially, economically and environmentally. Current methods being used to control deer populations are proving inefficient. Apex predators provide a natural way of controlling populations whilst providing other benefits to the ecosystems. Though the strategy has had a lot of backlash from local residents and conservation authorities it is the only sustainable, cost effective and effective way which can stop rapid deer population growth.

So what do you think?  Are reintroductions of apex predators to Scottish ecosystems for the purpose of deer management a good idea?

By Louise

Get involved:

The British deer society support a wide range of scientific research into deer habitat and welfare. If you’re interested they provide training and education surrounding effective deer management.

Scottish Wildlife WATCH, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, produces a magazine and Scottish newsletter which include information about environmental issues and give you the chance to help wildlife by taking part in projects and surveys.

  • Contact: Scottish Wildlife WATCH, Cramond House, Cramond Glebe Road, Edinburgh EH4 6NS

So what are you waiting for? Get involved today!

Further reading:

1Aebischer, N. J., Davey, P. D., & Kingdon, N. G. (2011). National Gamebag Census: Mammal Trends to 2009. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge.

2 Nilsen, E. B., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Schofield, L., Mysterud, A., Stenseth, N. C., & Coulson, T. (2007). Wolf reintroduction to Scotland: public attitudes and consequences for red deer management. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 274(1612), 995-1003.

3Ostfeld, R. S., Canham, C. D., Oggenfuss, K., Winchcombe, R. J., & Keesing, F. (2006). Climate, deer, rodents, and acorns as determinants of variation in Lyme-disease risk. PLoS Biol, 4(6), e145.

4Nilsen, E. B., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Schofield, L., Mysterud, A., Stenseth, N. C., & Coulson, T. (2007). Wolf reintroduction to Scotland: public attitudes and consequences for red deer management. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 274(1612), 995-1003.

5Clutton-Brock, T. H., & Lonergan, M. E. (1994). Culling regimes and sex ratio biases in Highland red deer. Journal of Applied Ecology, 521-527.

6Ramirez, S. 2016. Deer Management Strategies. PLSC 480: Management of Urban Forest Edges.

7Moore, O., & Crawley, M. J. (2014). Red deer exclusion and saxicolous cryptogam community structure. The Lichenologist, 46(02), 229-244.

Arts, K., Fischer, A. and van der Wal, R. 2015. Boundaries of the wolf and the wild: a conceptual examination of the relationship between rewilding and animal reintroduction. Restoration Ecology 24:27-34

8Letnic, M., Ritchie, E.G. and Dickman, C.R. 2012. Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupis dingo as a case study. Biological Reviews 87:390-413

9Lorimer, J., Sandom, C., Jepson, P., Doughty, C., Barua, M., & Kirby, K. J. (2015). Rewilding: Science, practice, and politics. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 40, 39-62.

10Ritchie, E.G., Elmhagen, B., Glen, A.S., Letnic, M., Ludwig, G. amd McDonald, R.A. 2012. Ecosystem restoration with teeth: what role for predators? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27:265-271

Should we reminisce about the past or recreate it?

Do those who yearn for the reintroduction of top predator species to Scotland really believe it will benefit conservation efforts? Alternatively, are they just hoping to live in their nostalgic, idealised dream of an historic Scotland? Rewilding is a concept that is gaining traction across Scotland, where there have been calls for the reintroduction of wolves and lynx. It is a hugely contentious topic around the world, following successful reintroductions of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA, where wolves have regulated elk populations. They have also allowed the reintegration of beavers, by stopping elk from churning up streams and riverbanks.

Advocates of rewilding in Scotland argue that wolves and lynx could help regulate populations of red deer, which have been running rampant in recent times, leading to calls for massive culls. The argument has even extended to the reestablishment of extinct species, such as the Woolly Mammoth and the Dodo, but that is a discussion for another blog post. At the Conservation Science Poster Conference fourth year Ecological and Environmental Science student Chris gave us his thoughts on rewilding.

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Only 1600s kids will understand the beauty of a wolf on a Highland landscape

Chris used the white tailed eagle’s reintroduction in Western Scotland as an example of a mainly successful local reintroduction of a top predator. Haliaeetus albicilla, also known as the British sea eagle, was first released on the Isle of Rum between 1975 and 1985 (after two failed small introductions in the 1950s and 60s). There have since been two other release phases (1993-98 and 2007-2012). Once released, most eagles departed Rum and many have taken up residence on the Isle of Mull, attracting numerous bird-watching tourists. There has been some human-wildlife conflict, particularly amongst sheep farmers, who claim the eagles have been attacking lambs, but on the whole their return has been received well. Some sheep farmers have even reported injuries to eagles found on their land.

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A soaring white-tailed sea eagle – Image courtesy of Yathin S Krishnappa

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The results of using a poisoned lamb carcass as bait – Image courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland

The take home message from Chris’ presentation was that, whilst rewilding is a form of conservation that is exciting and captures the imagination of the general public, more transparent discourse should be used by rewilding organisations to prevent misunderstandings upon the reintroduction of certain species. Whilst the white-tailed sea eagle was billed as “a scavenger with importance for Scotland’s tourism” which would have a minimal impact on Scottish sheep faming, sheep farmers have been compensated for significant economic losses. There should also be more community involvement in rewilding schemes, as local stakeholders can be key to the success of reintroduction schemes, as they can either sabotage conservation efforts (as shown by Raptor Persecution Scotland’s photo above) or be a key factor in a scheme’s success. It is therefore vital that we treat local stakeholders with the importance and respect that they deserve.

Further reading:

Arts, K., Fischer, A. and van der Wal, R. (2012). Common stories of reintroduction: A discourse analysis of documents supporting animal reintroductions to Scotland. Land Use Policy, 29(4), pp.911-920.

 

By Nick

Species resurrection: coming soon to an ecosystem near you

What is De-extinction?

Can we resurrect dinosaurs by mixing some DNA samples with frog DNA like in Jurassic Park?
– Not quite.
BUT recent advances in technology may allow us to use DNA from more recently extinct animals and use a related modern animal as a surrogate mother (See figure 1).

 

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Figure 1: an illustration of the role of a surrogate mother in resurrecting an animal

Global biodiversity loss is already a problem, so to keep ecosystems functioning and providing all the ecosystem services we enjoy (see figure 2) conservation strategies are being used to restore & maintain ecosystem biodiversity (To find out more about Ecosystem services check out a website all about them). De-extinction would broaden the list of species we can reintroduce where needed.

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Figure 2: Ecosystem services that all life receives from its environment

Pleistocene Park!

In Northern Siberia a project is aiming to restore a whole ecosystem that was lost after the last Ice Age (~10,000 years ago). Currently Siberia is much mossier and less grassy than it used to be. Without large populations of herbivores to graze intensely, productivity and soil fertility are reduced, allowing moss and shrubs to outcompete grass.

The mammoth-tundra steppe is more productive, holds more carbon and will host a higher density of megafauna than the current landscape. Pleistocene Park is bringing back the high densities of herbivores to encourage grasslands to return, and maybe one day the mammoth and woolly rhino could be brought back.

These species have been gone ages. What good will they do now?

Some of the most effective conservation projects have involved re-locating species to where they have been wiped out in the past, restoring a lost driver of ecosystem processes.
Why would we want to restore ecosystem processes we haven’t had on Earth for several thousand years? – These ecosystem processes are not necessarily lost, it’s just that the animals that are so good at maintaining them have gone. In some cases this might be because humans hunted them all to extinction, or because humans changed that landscape so much that the animals we want back weren’t able to survive there anymore.

There is a lot of uncertainty and risk involved in bringing species back from extinction

Re-introduced animals have had no time to adapt to the changes in their environment and will have a very low intra-species diversity (avoiding inbreeding will be tricky).
Resurrected species might not do what we expect and become a problem in their environment, or will be the target of trophy hunting. Such an expensive project will take away valuable resources from other very important conservation efforts, like saving species and ecosystems that are currently endangered.

De-extinction could be another useful contribution to our restoration efforts, but there is a lot we don’t understand about the process. Projects like Pleistocene Park provide a case study for us to compare new projects to and something to learn from. Considering this, de-extinction should be low priority when choosing a candidate for reintroductions. We should be spending our efforts instead on creating better guidelines for reintroduction.

 

By Chris