Phylogeny and Conservation

Doug Yanega dyanega at MONO.ICB.UFMG.BR
Tue Jan 27 14:55:56 CST 1998

John Shuey wrote:

[many good points snipped]
>The concept to remember is this.  Conservation resources (=$$$ and time) are
>limited.  Conservation targets are almost unlimited.  If you really want to
>make a difference in the World, utilize limited resources such that they
>maximize conservation impact.  And you best accomplish that by conserving ALL
>ecosystems (or what's left of them) on Earth.  Targeting unique phylogenetic
>lineages per say, is at best a distraction from the greater task at hand.

This also relates, however, to what folks decide upon as the "goals" of
conservation. The "utilitarian" school of thought, that all taxa are
potential sources of products/services of value to mankind, quite possibly
*would* place a premium, a priori, on lineages with no close extant
relatives - the logic being that the odds that they might possess
properties (esp. biochemical) not shared by any other organisms is likely
to be higher than normal. Daniel Barker's comment about the phenotype being
the important thing is along these lines, in a sense (though we all know
that few organisms have *already* been completely surveyed for all their
biochemical and biological properties and potential value, so we are likely
to have to decide on conservation without knowing what it is we're trying
to conserve).
As an aside related to species-based conservation, this also tends to make
conservation an easier target for naysayers, who jibe about "some worthless
clam" or whatever, and make it seem like a waste of taxpayer dollars. If we
take the phylogenetic species concept to heart, we may in turn proliferate
the number of imperiled taxa (because of the likelihood we'll find many
cryptic molecular "species" which satisfy the conditions of the PSC), and
only make the political situation worse (just imagine if every mountaintop
in Arizona had its own molecular species of red squirrel, rather than just
Mt. Graham). For conservation to have too close a reliance on phylogenetics
also has risks such as this, but naturally this assumes that we continue to
focus on species-based conservation plans. Clearly *that* general issue is
far from consensus.


Doug Yanega    Depto. de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas,
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais, Cx.P. 486, 30.161-970 Belo Horizonte, MG   BRAZIL
phone: 031-449-2579, fax: 031-441-5481  (from U.S., prefix 011-55)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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