Assigning value to conservation targets - was Endangered Genera (or Families)

John Shuey Shueyi at AOL.COM
Fri Jan 8 09:48:44 CST 1999

There are several interesting philosophical question floating around in the
threads related to this sunject, as well as the morphospecies thread,  and the
"tobin" tale.  These revolve around the different perspecitives, interests,
professional goals and experiances of those on the list.  Given that intro,
here is my perspective so that you will now where I'm comming from.

I'm conservation practitioner, who trained in ecology, ethology and
systematics.  I work for The Nature Conservancy, a U.S-based conservation
organization with programs throughout the western hemisphere and the South
Pacific - TNC's consevation budget exceeded $500M last year, and is growing.
The budget is split and 60/40 to U.S and international programs repectively
(go to www\ if you want additional info).  I currently guide the
conservation activities in Indiana, a small midwestern U.S. a state that is
dominated by agricultural landuses.  We spend $3-4M per year on direct
conservation within Indiana and send >$100K to conservation organizations in
Latin America.  I am commited to implimenting conservation, and doubt that I
would ever leave The Conservancy - if I did, it would be for a similar
position where applied conservation is the normal routine.

That said, I believe that there are fundimental differences in the
perspectives of those who practice conservation, and those who talk about
practicing conservation.  Conservation practictioners work to conserve
biodiversity, not individual species.  Thus, this text perplexes me as a

<     Are there any lists (governmental or otherwise) that concentrate on
 <"endangered" high taxa like genera and families.  Given that extinctions
 <are unfortunately a part of modern life, I wonder if anyone tries any
 <kind of taxonomic "triage", so that species of less speciose genera or
 <families, might be given a bit more attention than very speciose genera
 <or families.  Of course there are other things to consider, but in
 <general wouldn't limited resources be best spent if we tried to
 <concentrate on overall genetic biodiversity.

It raises and answers the question - Where does real genetic biodiversty
reside?.  Does a taxon that represents the lone species of a highly derived
lineage represnt "more" genetic diversity than does a complex of poorly
understood sibling species that pass as a single morphospecies?  How about
high underived taxa, which retain many ancestral charcahters and hence are
termed "primative" - why would they be more genetically rich than "normally"
evoloved entities.
        A second point is the level at which extinction occurs.  Extiction is a
population-level process.  If extintion runs unchecked, it can, does and has
consumed entire species.  The question posed above seems to revolve around
extinction at the higher taxonomic category, especially as it relates to high
taxa represented by very few species.  But given that exiction happens at the
population level, does targeting and conserving a genus really make sence just
because it is really different?  Should not that entity actually be imperiled
before scarce conservation dollars are spent to conserve it?  And if it is
imperiled, then its the species that we are interested in isn't it - not the
higher taxonomic category per say.
        Third, this implies that biodiversity conservation proceeds on a species-by-
species approach.  In practice, only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and
the ICCUN take this approach.  Most conservation organizations are targeting
ecosystems as singular target - assuming that you capture all the component
species in the process.  Targeting and conserving single species, while
sometimes a necsseity, is very cost prohibitive.  Where possible, organization
like the one I work for try to take a broad approach.  For example, the
Conservancy just worked out a deal that added 2,000,000 acres to Noel Kempf
National Park in Bolivia (includes a diverse mosiac of savanna, wetlands, and
mountain rainforest with extensive riverine systems entirely contained within
the park).  This creates a conserved area of almost 4M acres, that is likely a
viable conservation area for all resident species.  Other, equally important
landscapes are being worked on throught the hemiphere.  Targeting single
species will never yield such coherently designed conservation areas as these.

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