Where should we concentrate conservation efforts?
Back in January, Kevin Gaston at the University of Sheffield argued in Science that conservation efforts should be directed towards common species as well as the ‘obvious’, rare and ‘threatened’ ones1.
The argument is beguilingly simple. In the absence of a detailed understanding of what each species does in an ecosystem, it would be foolish to allow the loss of any one of them.
The paper was selected by David Lindenmayer of the ANU in our Ecology Faculty (Spatial & Landscape Ecology) just two weeks ago. David says the paper makes a plea for the conservation and management of common species, which is different to much past conservation biology that has focused around the need to ensure the preservation of rare and endangered taxa.
However, we’ve just published a dissent by Ferdinando ‘Nando’ Boero of the Universita’ del Salento (who, by the way, claims that Frank Zappa has cited his work. Read the full story). Nando, in an intelligent and well-argued dissent, while granting that more common species are indeed important to the continued functioning of ecosystems, maintains that rare species do deserve special attention.
During battles, military surgeons divide wounded soldiers into three categories: those who will die anyway (and they do not treat them); those who need immediate care, otherwise they will die (and they are treated immediately); and those who can be treated later because the wounds are not life-threatening. Maybe, with conservation biology, we are caring more about species that are practically extinct (the ‘soldiers that will die anyway’) and, in doing so, we let other species die because we do not care as much about them.
It’s a fascinating debate: do feel free to share your thoughts here.
And for some light relief this Thanksgiving weekend, also check out this video of Nando talking about jellyfish, art and music, including Frank Zappa’s response to having a jellyfish—Phialella zappai—named after him.