Friday, October 1, 2010

Where's my plaque?

Ryan alerted me to the press reports on this paper that was published yesterday:
 Correlates of rediscovery and the detectability of extinction in mammals. by Diana Fisher and Simon Blomberg in proceedings of the Royal Society B,.
(You'll need to be on campus or use the libraries proxy server to read the article). A typical press report:

Conservationists are overestimating the number of species that have been driven to extinction, scientists have said. A study has found that a third of all mammal species declared extinct in the past few centuries have turned up alive and well.
Some of the more reclusive creatures managed to hide from sight for 80 years only to reappear within four years of being officially named extinct in the wild.

Perhaps more interesting are the comments in those online papers that have open comments sections (read at your own risk). It looks like this study is being used by some people to confirm their prejudices - scientists are exaggerating the scale of the problem for their own benefit. Whereas in reality, with the great difficulty in monitoring the population sizes of very rare species it is really not surprising at all that this happens
If you read the actual paper you'll find it is rather more interesting. From their actual aim:
to test whether extinction from different causes is equally detectable
to their results:
We find that species affected by habitat loss were much more likely to be misclassified as extinct or to remain missing than those affected by introduced predators and diseases, or overkill
and conclusion:
Conservation resources are wasted searching for species that have no chance of rediscovery, while most missing species receive no attention. Rather than searching ever more for charismatic missing species, such as thylacines in Australia, it would be a better use of resources to look for species that are most likely to be alive, find out where they are, and protect their habitats.
Or, for an alternative view maybe Robb in Lancaster, PA is onto something.
WOW, what happened to the days when scientists were worried about answers and truth in those answers? I guess all they care about now is the plaque on the wall and federally funded monies in their bank accounts!! govts around the world need to stop financing so called research!
The report in Wired magazine is one of the best I saw and they have some good quotes from the author:
“If you think that a missing species is extinct and the main cause of decline was introduced predators such as feral foxes, cats or rats, then you are very likely to be right,” Fisher said. But, she added, “If the main cause of decline was habitat loss, you are quite likely to be wrong if you say that it’s extinct, unless it was restricted to a very small area.”

“We should be trying to protect the habitat of recently extinct species,” Fisher said. “But this is not easy, because we don’t know where they might be rediscovered. It is not necessarily near where the species was last seen.”

1 comment:

Lauren Argue said...

I was frustrated after reading the responses to this article. Though findings of declared "extinct" animals still living today does look bad on scientists, it is not a fair to state that there are exaggerations on environmental issues. Tasks of studying species, and keeping track of their number is difficult and an easy field to make mistakes in.

Besides the point, even IF there are exaggerations on these issues of global warming and species loss, they are still big enough issues that need to be dealt with sooner than later or there won't be a need for exaggeration. We should stop avoiding the evidence we have of the issues humans are causing, whether the harm is great or not because the issues will only get worse. Current mistakes, or miscalculations should not be a scapegoat for avoiding problems we are to blame for.

-Lauren Argue