what are we going to do

John Shuey Shueyi at AOL.COM
Wed Oct 23 16:59:18 CDT 1996

Anita F. Cholewa writes:

>It's a little disconcerting to hear that the Nature
>Conservancy will only provide funding (for research on
>an organism/community) after it has become rare.  It's
<also disconcerting to hear that the Nature Conservancy
<may offer money for describing new species.  Both of
<these ideas suggest a scenario to me that will lead to
<increased degradation of communities ("why should we
<care about this oak forest, it has no rare organisms")
<and to increased adnauseum splitting of species where
<it may not be taxonomically warranted ("if I say these
<examples of variation within a species are really species
<then I can fund this closely related project").
<This is not what I thought the Nature Conservancy was about
<Perhaps this is not really what Mr. Shuey meant?

I'll take a couple of minutes becuase several of the ideas here deserve
comments.  First, The Conservancy tries to protect biodiversity at all levels
of organization.  But, given the limiting factor in all conservation efforts,
 i.e., money, we strive to make sure that we maximize the impact of every
action.  For example, in southern Indiana there are hundreds-of-thousands of
acres of oak forests and woodlands that could be protected by TNC.  We have a
maybe US$2-3M per year to spend statewide on land protection.  At best, that
might protect 2-3,000 acres of remote unfarmable/undevelopable land, in
reality it gets us about 1,500 acres per year at best.  Thus, we often use
relative rarity to prioritize our actions.  Any gain in protection,
especially of imperiled species, will help us make decisions between two
otherwise equal opputunities.

As to the issue of The Conservancy focusing only on rare species - we do have
a bias towards protecting things that are imperiled.  After all, who else is
doing this on a regular basis?  Should we buy a forest to protect black oaks
and robins, or should we target black oak communities that also support
populations of rare forbs and warblers?  Because its is obvious that we
 can't know everything, we also target very high quality examples of every
community type - this is especially true for terrestrial systems.  By
protecting the best examples of communities such as Tipton Till Plain
Forests, we hope that we pick up most if not all of the "unknown" entities.
 But note that we are not likely to pick up the common Tipton Till Plain
forest remnant, that  square 80 acre patch of woods that the farmer just
couldn't get to drain, but target the larger sites which tend to maximize
microhabitat diversity, redundancy, and hopefully long-term viability.
 Larger, more complex forest remnants also tend to have rich biotas. It would
be foolish to simply pick up any old woodlot in the name of biodiversity

As to my potential support of  new species descriptions.  I'm no fool and I
doubt that I would put out a broadcast offer to name new species from
Indiana.  We have too many varietal names kicking arount for every color form
of orchids already.  But when word comes back from someone like THE expert on
a group like _Psuedothamus_  that a couple of species of cave beetles are
new, likely endemics to single cave systems, then I listen.  And when I hear
things like "yea, that makes 15  undescribed species now, maybe I'll get to
it after I retire" then I start thinking about incentives to move things
along.  Honestly, the chance to approach a major donor with the oppurtunity
to contribute a million bucks towards saving a handfull of species that occur
nowhere else on the planet can be (and sometimes is) easy pickins.   To me,
everyone wins, the taxonomist, the Conservancy, but mostly the cave - and
that IS my target, no matter how twisted a trail I leave on the way there.

Keep in mind that the thread was originally based on funding oppurtunities
for alpha taxonomists, and was not intended as an overview of how the
Conservancy makes protection decisions.  Protection may indeed be as simple
as protecting a population site for a critically endangered species but that
is very unusual.  More often we're are looking at community stucture/funtion,
ecological processes, and best estimates of site viability.  As I said
before, there is a basic disconnect between much of the academic community
who studies biodiversity and those who actually implement measures to protect
biodiversity.  And that's still ok.

John Shuey
Director of Science and Conservation Biology
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy

(and not that it really matters - also Ph.D.)

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