[Taxacom] Conservation

Weakley, Alan weakley at bio.unc.edu
Fri Apr 27 07:34:33 CDT 2012

This dual "habitat" and "species" approach is what has been in application in conservation inventory and planning for many decades in North America.  In the early 1970s, Bob Jenkins, then VP for Science for the Nature Conservancy, developed what came to be called the "coarse filter / fine filter" approach to conservation planning.  Conserve the great bulk of biodiversity via communities / ecosystems (including taxa that you don't even know about), and the rest that "require it" by one-on-one focus, such as Red Listing, or in the US listing under the Endangered Species Act.   This led to the invention and implementation of the network of Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centres (called the latter in Canada and Latin America), now supported by an umbrealla organization called NatureServe (http://www.natureserve.org/).  "As this network expanded to include Canada and Latin America, natural heritage programs became the recognized source for the most complete and detailed information on rare and endangered species and threatened ecosystems, relied upon by government agencies, corporations, and the conservation community alike. Today the NatureServe network includes 82 independent natural heritage programs and conservation data centers throughout the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 1,000 dedicated scientists and a collective annual budget of more than $45 million."

So, for instance in North Carolina where I live, the N.C. Natural Heritage Program employs about 20 natural scientists:  botanists, invertebrate zoologists, aquatic ecologists, etc.  They conduct field inventories to find sites of biodiversity importance, called Significant Natural Heritage Areas.  These can be based on high quality common or rare communities / ecosystems (the coarse filter), or on the presence of one or more of the >1000 rare species (vertebrates, vascular plants, nonvasculars, inverts, lichens, obviously the list getting more partial and haphazard as one gets into nonvasculars, inverts, and microorganisms), tracked by the program as of individual conservation concern (the fine filter).  Most Significant Natural Heritage Areas have both important communities and important species.  There is also a considerable amount of redundancy in the information, in that sites that support rare taxa of one taxonomic group tend also to support rare taxa of other taxonomic groups, and for these sites also to have high quality communities, so there are good reasons to believe that this approach to locating (and then working to conserve, let's not forget!) important biodiversity sites is quite good (perfect, no, there may well be a beetle hotspots going unrecognized..., if they have biogeographic and habitat patterns that are going unrecognized by the terrestrial and aquatic community classifications, and by the presence of concentrations of rare taxa from other taxonomic groups that have been better studied or are more apparent and easy to find.).  These sites are then the basis for state, national (federal), and NGO conservation activities that proceed (even in these fiscally tough times) at a substantial but inadequate level.

Anyway, is all this perfect? - no.  Does it answer all the questions of whether to prioritize the conservation of a one-site endemic isopod vs. a large tract of high quality forest communities with no known rare species? - no.  One could have (and many of us do have) losts of debastes about these methodologies, values to inform decision-making, level of detail needed to pick places, emphasis on species vs. systems, etc.

Alan Weakley, Ph.D.
Director and Curator, University of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU), North Carolina Botanical Garden
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Biology and Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mail:  Campus Box 3280, UNC-CH, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
Email:  weakley at unc.edu
Phone:  919.619.1101

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Ken Kinman
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2012 12:39 AM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] Conservation

Hi Stephen,     Agreed, a mixture of both strategies would be best.  However, at present there is too much emphasis on particular taxa that are the favorites of researchers with the inside track on funding.  Those studying wolves or polar bears can still get excessive funding to keep renting helicopters to basically repeatedly harass, trap, collar, and "study" them over and over again for decades, while other taxa are ignored.  Another field that is even more over-funded is dinosaur research, just because people find them fascinating.  Dinosaurs may draw some young people into the field of biology, but that does not justify the excessive spending of funds on dinosaur research rather than studying species which are still living.  I still believe that dinosaur specimens should be preserved in museums, but the extremely time-consuming process of preparing huge dinosaur carnivores and herbivores should be put off until the future, and that more of those biologists should be enco!
 uraged to study poorly-studied species of living species (and I am not talking about wolves and polar bears which have been studied excessively), but especially taxa that are neglected (even if the masses do not find them as interesting).  No wonder the phylogeny of invertebrate phyla is so poorly understood.            ------------------Ken  

-------------------------------------------------------------Stephen wrote:an alternative strategy is to conserve habitats/ecosystems, based on their overall biodiversity, rather than try to prioritise particular taxa. The only losers in this case would be threatened phylogenetically isolated taxa in not very diverse habitats ... I'm not sure off hand if there would be many of these?
Still, probably a mixture of both strategies would be better still ...

From: Ken Kinman <kin... at hotmail.com>
To: taxa... at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Friday, 27 April 2012 3:42 PM
Subject: [Taxacom] conservation

Hi Donat et al.,      Well, my opinion is still (although not popular with some
biologists) is that some taxa should be given higher priority for conservation efforts than others.  The question is just what are most of these species which are going extinct every day or every year.  If a few dozen species among speciose (and perhaps oversplit) taxa of beetles or flies or nematodes or other fast radiating taxa (some angiosperm genera) are lost, is that as important as the loss of even a single species of species-poor taxa (especially those of relevance to those humans who financially support conservation efforts).  Not that I would be as inclined as some humans to lean toward conservation of certain butterflies or birds just because they are "attractive", but rather that taxa with relative few species that are threatened should have higher priority
than taxa with many taxa.      For example, should we devote limited resources
protecting any
 particular species of the genus Rattus?  Some may be endangered, but that genus is so species-rich that loss of any particular species is hardly to be compared with the loss of a species of any primate species (especially a species of great
ape) or a monotypic bat family such as Craseonyctidae (which could disappear due to continued neglect).  With increasingly high extinction rates, we must make conservation decisions based on overall diversity, NOT merely numbers of species (some of which may have radiated rapidly recently but inevitably subject to natural extinction anyway because that is how natural selection works over the long term).  The potential extinction of a single species of great ape should be treated with more alarm than that of a dozen species of Rattus or other speciose genera of beetle, flies, or nematodes.  Making decisions on absolute numbers of species is short-sighted in my opinion.  So, "ivory-tower" strategies may be good if  they concentrate on species-poor taxa, but not so good just because a particular researcher has a fascination with a species-rich group and simply has better connections that give them more access to federal research funding.  And some mammal species (wolves and polar bears) get way too much funding compared to other mammal species (especially compared to the southern hemisphere). 
Funding priorites are still skewed in terms of both geography and diversity.   
-------------------Ken Kinman    		 	   		  

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