Pattern versus process in conservation

Russell Seymour rss5 at UKC.AC.UK
Mon Jun 1 10:37:03 CDT 1998

Dear All,

Following a seminar in which I was flamed (or distinctly singed at least!)
for suggesting that pattern (geographic distribution) is more important
than process (gene flow, drift, speciation events, ?, etc) for conservation
purposes I would like to gauge a broader set of opinions.

My own interest is directed towards subspecific distribution of mammals. I
argued that if subspecies (I use this term loosely to mean any uniquely
diagnosable group within a species) are to be used as 'conservation units'
it is the pattern of distribution which must be elucidated so that the
ranges may be delimited and management directed accordingly.

My understanding of the argument against me is essentially that it must be
some kind of process (natural selection? hybridisation zones?) that causes
the observed differences so it is this process that needs to be protected.
The patterns we see now are simply transitory. Distributions seen in 1998
are different to those of a century ago, a millenium ago or further back.
Indeed, in many cases they may be different to a decade ago. Hence it is
the process and not the patterns derived from the process that must be
identified and measures implemented to protect it (the process) into the

I understand this argument but isn't it detached from reality? Legislation
is one of the few tools available to large scale conservation but it
requires specifics. It needs names and defined ranges. To acquire special
protection for a 'conservation unit' it needs some particulars attached to
it - specifically a name (implying a diagnosable unit) and range.

To me pattern implies process. If a unique morphology or widely diverging
DNA sequence (or whatever) is found then a process is occurring. At this
point in time it is pretty much irrelevant what that is. The thing to do is
to take action to protect the whole system. This way by identifying and
protecting the pattern you effectively protect the process too.

Ultimately perhaps this is a matter of semantics as both approaches reach
the same goal but it seems that the pragmatic approach, which will best
suit the pathways of legislation and politics which need to be traversed,
is the pattern approach. I am interested in your opinion.


P.S. I have sent this message to TAXACOM and CONSBIO. Sorry if you get it twice.


Russell Seymour
PhD Research Student
Institute of Zoology            and     Durrell Institute of
Zoological Society of London            Conservation and Ecology
Regents Park                            University of Kent
London                                  UK
NW1  4RY
Tel: + 44 (0)171 449 6621
Fax: + 44 (0)171 586 2870

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