Old-time firefighters

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Sun Aug 25 07:26:33 CDT 2002

> Connoisseurs of deja vu might like to read the following quote and check
> out the article from which it was taken:
> "...the land and fresh-water fauna is disappearing rapidly, and unless we
> now make an organized effort it will be too late to study it effectually,
> and future generations will wonder what manner of people we were not to
> leave behind us some adequate record of the marvellously interesting forms
> of animal life which we had succeeded in exterminating..."
> Spencer, B. 1921. The necessity for an immediate and co-ordinated
> investigation into the land and fresh-water fauna of Australia and
> Tasmania. The Victorian Naturalist 37(10): 120-122.

Wow!  I was unaware of that publication, but I will definitely track down a
copy.  Thanks!

> I like to quote Spencer when I promote salvage sampling in Tasmania, but
> people see that date, 1921, and think, "Gee, it can't be that urgent if
> we've still got all this nature around us, 80 years later." The fallacy
> here is subtle. In Tasmania and in Spencer's Melbourne-area Victoria we've
> had huge habitat losses and undoubtedly species extinctions in those 80
> years, but what's missing and extinct isn't part of the argument
> because no pre-loss inventories were done.

EXACTLY!!  "You can't know a species has gone extinct, if you never knew it
existed in the first place."

> If I were REALLY cynical I'd explain the
> paucity of inventory work since Rio 1992 as a deliberate strategy on the
> part of governments friendly to developers. If there's no record of the
> biota from that vanished habitat, then there's no evidence of loss...

I'm not quite that cynical....yet....but I still think it's a shame that
this perspective (the loss of biodiversity without knowing its existence)
isn't promoted more often, or understood more broadly both within and
outside of academia.


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
"The opinions expressed are those of the sender, and not necessarily those
of Bishop Museum."

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