Posted by: Dan | July 17, 2006

Prioritizing species protection

I’m not an Sb-er, but I did take note of this “Ask a ScienceBlogger” question last week: Is every species of living thing on the planet equally deserving of protection?. I found the question to be almost naïve, as apparently did the Sb-ers who responded, but still, I would have hoped for longer responses.

Of course “equal protection for all life on Earth” is an infeasible thing. Like it or not, we’re part of the global ecosystem, and we need animal and vegetable products for food, clothing, etc. The key is in responsible management of the species that surround us, whether it be for ocean fisheries, forestries and lumber reserves, hunting stocks, habitats adjacent to land occupied by people, or the release of harmful chemicals into the natural environment.

Priorities need to be made.

And there are a number of programs out there working to assess the impacts of biodiversity loss, habitat loss, etc.

One such effort is the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, which was launched by U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan in June 2001 and was completed in March 2005 to meet assessment needs of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species, as well as needs of other users in the private sector and civil society. A related site can be found at Green Facts: Scientific Facts on Ecosystem Change, which popularizes the Millenium Assessments.

Many NGOs are campaigning for specific actions related to ecosystem destruction and biodiversity loss. Books by E.O. Wilson are highly recommended for cautiously optimistic plans for stabilizing the biosphere; Conservation International is leading some of the most innovative international conservation plans out there, working with developing countries to find economically-viable alternatives to deforestation by the lumber company conglomerates.

Other programs include a proactive conservation agenda is taking shape in the past few years, looking for ways to rebuild damaged ecosystems be reintroducing “keystone” species – mainly the megafauna and other critical species in damaged food chains.

Then there’s the reactive conservation plans that look to identify and stop population declines after they begin – sometimes after it’s too late to save such species from extinction. Some of these are referred to as “sentinel” species (many exotic amphibians fall into this category), which like a canary in a mine, give forewarning on underlying problems in ecosystems facing hidden problems.

I’m just skimming the surface in general terms, however – a comprehensive post on the ways in which we can, should and are prioritizing conservationism would be a massive undertaking – but that’s just what we need, a truly massive undertaking. This is a mass extinction, not seen since the end of the age of the Dinosaurs, and (although I don’t have the references handy at the moment) it’s been estimated that it will take 1-2 million years (or more) for biodiversity to recover from this decline.



  1. “I would have hoped for longer responses.”

    We’ve been told to limit our responses to ~300 words.

  2. Ah, I didn’t realize the lenght limit. Sorry about that – but still, it’s a topic well worth greater attention, IMO.

  3. Given that we cannot possibly save every species now in existence, I vote that we kick all the venomous snames off the ark.

  4. There are some more responses from the Sb-ers now – Coturnix has a really good one that I think follows the thought path that I was on…


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