Burning Fires

Phil Bunch pbunch at CTS.COM
Sat Aug 24 15:27:35 CDT 2002

I'd like to add something to this. It is clear that the preservation of
diversity at the local level is desirable. We should however, consider the
reality of rapidly spreading, non-native species and the new "communities"
they are forming. To date we have had little success in stopping this
process and I doubt if we will be particularly effective in the future.
Many of the new residents are here to stay.

If we want our kids to have places to experience "nature" we had best
preserve some of the non-native habitat tracts that now exist. This is
particularly true in areas like Hawaii, where much of the native lowland
habitat has, for all intents and purposes, been extirpated. Perhaps some
the native flora and fauna can be reestablished but it appears to be a
long-shot. If open space is preserved at least the opportunity exits to
attempt the reestablishment of "native" communities.

We are seeing many new aggregations of species develop all over the world.
As time goes by evolution will work it's way and new local species and
ecosystems will develop. This will occur relatively rapidly in some cases
and slowly in others. However, if we are correct in our general assumptions
that evolution is inevitable, new local systems cannot be avoided. While I
would like to stop the world and get off at times, it may be that abundant
opportunities to observe evolutionary processes are opening up before our

Phil Bunch

On Saturday, August 24, 2002 14:55, Richard Pyle
[SMTP:deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG] wrote:
> Thanks for the thoughtful response!
> > I still believe
> > preserving natural ecosystems is the highest of all.
> Yes, and I agree with that as well -- as I imagine most biologists would.
> No amount of collected material can match the richness and diversity
> (genetic and otherwise) of a natural ecosystem.  To whatever extent we
> we can win the battle to save the environment in its natural state, by
> means we should prioritize on that quest.
> > I would like to believe that it is not either-or
> Yes, I agree.  And for the most part, I really don't think that it is
> either-or. Certainly we should not be thinking of it in those terms,
> in reality, it's all about the same thing -- ensuring the long-term
> preservation of biodiversity.  The two approaches certainly complement
> other, and as already stated, I think its clear which of the two deserves
> top priority.
> The last thing I wanted to do was suggest an "us" vs. "them" attitude,
> leading to more unnecessary internal bickering among those who share the
> goal of preserving biodiversity.  We certainly don't need any more
> factioning.  Rather, my main objective is to cast the idea on inventory
in a
> somewhat different light in terms of its relevance to conservation.  In
> particular, I'm not sure it's a wise approach to regard inventory as a
> "luxury", to be instigated only after the fire is extinguished.  When
> people think of the value of inventory for conservation, it's almost
> in direct, real-time terms (i.e., how knowledge gained from an inventory
> directly feed back into habitat preservation effectiveness).  Of course
> is important, and true, and real -- and we should not ignore this angle
> any means.  My intention in formulating the burning library analogy was
> attempt to step back a bit, and look at the idea of conservation from a
> broader, more long-term perspective.
> > Still, I would go with preserving as much of the library (in situ
> > conservation) as possible as the highest priority.  The two main
> > would be (1) we will never capture all of the genetic diversity within
> > species to put in the vaults even as starters for future genetic
> > or manipulation, and (2) maybe even more importantly, a specimen
> > in a vault
> > or herbarium represents not only its genotype but also whatever
> > environmental (biotic and abiotic) influences resulted in the "finished
> > product" we examine.  Until ecology gets a whole lot more data
> > than I think
> > are available at present, I doubt we would be able to come even
> > close to capturing or creating those external influences in or
> > extrapolating from a vault.
> Yes, I agree with everything you say above.
> > Anyway, how many biologists and how long would it take to do enough
> > transects to get as much of the earth's present biodiversity
> > sampled as has
> > been done in the past in the countries where the most is presently
> > known?  I don't know, but am pessimistic that we will come close unless
> > there is a program or entity organized for this specific purpose only.
> > apologize if there is such an organization(s) and I am unaware of
> > I would be interested to learn of any).
> Well, this was a large part of the idea behind the All Species Foundation
> (www.all-species.org).  I think we all agree that at historical and
> rates, the inventory process is much too slow to meaningfully out-pace
> fire.  There would need to be some dramatic shifts in the way that
> is done; with particular attention to megadiverse, poorly known groups
> (nematodes, mites, prokaryotes, etc....).  The hope is that information
> other) technology will speed the process.  Whether or not it can bump up
> pace by two orders of magnitude is an open question, but I think we can
> dramatically improve upon our current rate of progress.
> > It is better than nothing to
> > accompany timber company representatives in the field, as I have done,
> > collect as specimens some of the plants they are cutting down before
> > replace them with something else, or to get help from existing
> > agricultural, forestry, or conservation organizations, but the problem
> > that none of those that I know of have sampling the biodiversity as
> > primary focus or priority, so we always know we are getting only bits
> > pieces from those organizations.
> Yes, exactly.  My goal (as stated above) is not to foster "competition"
> between alternate approaches to biodiversity conservation; but rather, to
> raise the level of consciousness (both within academia, and in the public
> perception as well) about what it is we are really doing when we are
> collecting specimens and preserving them in Museums.  With a slight shift
> our general mindset and our approach to inventory, I think we can improve
> the effectiveness of our existing efforts, if not expand their scale.
> Thinking about it this way has certainly changed my own perspective of
how I
> do inventories (whereas my focus until now has been simply to find new
> species of fishes on deep reefs; my future efforts will more broadly
> the overall biodiversity of these depths, and I will modify my specimen
> curation practices to ensure that preserving DNA-sequencable tissue
> becomes part of the standard protocol).
> > I am getting dangerously close to retirement age and wondering if
> > that type
> > of inventorying would be a good retirement activity.  But it took
almost a
> > year for me to get a little over 2,000 specimens collected, pressed,
> > sent as I wandered around Cameroon in a not very organized way when I
> > younger, and that was not usually traveling very many kilometers from
> > nearest town.  Seems like it will take more than 100 fire
> > fighters and some
> > prior organizational planning as to which hot spots they will be sent
> > within the library!
> Yes, and I think that is representative of (by far) the biggest threat to
> biodiversity conservation initiatives:  a sense of futility.  The current
> issue of Time magazine (August 26, 2002) has a 62-page "Special Report"
> the Environment (Cover story: "How to Save The Earth").  I've only read
> through about half of it so far, but I think its optimistic approach to
> issue is exactly what we biologists, and the public at large, really need
> hear right now.  In the Editor's section, Adi Ignatius writes: "Yes, our
> planet is under siege from the combined pressures of air and water
> pollution, global warming and overpopulation. But new technologies,
> innovative, market-based incentives and a growing mainstream acceptance
> green concerns offer hope hat real progress is within reach."
 Personally, I
> like this sort of optimism; and contrary to what it may seem from my
> library analogy (which is predicated on a pessimistic outlook for the
> of natural habitat conservation), I consider myself to be an enthusiastic
> optimist.  But at the same time, I am also a pragmatist; and the
> in me is imagining what society one or two hundred years hence will think
> our generation's foresight in long-term biodiversity survival.  Just
> I'm an optimist, doesn't mean I don't think we should "hedge our bets" by
> filling the vault up while we still can.  We may very well find that it
> an unnecessary effort, if near-term technology and "mainstream acceptance
> green concerns" really can get the fire under control before too many
> species join the ranks of the "forever lost".  But think about our legacy
> we can't beat the fire.  Will future society lament the (in)actions of
> predecessors in preserving for them only 10-20% of the genetic diversity
> that once was, when they had an opportunity to do so much more?
> Again, my intent is not to establish an "either-or" approach to the
> I'm just trying to think of the issue from a broader, more long-term
> perspective.
> Aloha,
> Rich
> Richard L. Pyle
> Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
> 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
> Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
> email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> http://www.bishopmuseum.org/bishop/HBS/pylerichard.html
> "The opinions expressed are those of the sender, and not necessarily
> of Bishop Museum."

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