Posts Tagged ‘conservationism’

There was no biodiversity to begin with

September 15, 2015

I was listening to some conservationists on the radio discussing the rate of loss of species and how this was a catastrophe in the making for biodiversity. It was an unsatisfactory talk mainly because they all made what I thought were quite unjustified assumptions. It was more about political advocacy rather than any attempt to argue based on evidence.

The “politically correct” view is that biodiversity (measured as the number of species in existence) is a “good thing” and that more species is “good” and fewer species is “bad”. Saving endangered species is also a “good” thing. That species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate means catastrophically that a 6th mass extinction is nigh. But I find this viewpoint lacking in substance. We have more species existing today than ever before. Probably too many. Mass extinctions have helped “clean out” the rubbish that evolution throws up. Extinction rates may be high but that is hardly surprising when the number of species is so high. A 6th mass extinction may, in fact, be necessary. More species and more biodiversity is not always a good thing.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

An endangered species is one whose population is low and dangerously in decline. If numbers of individuals of a species are that low, then that species has already become irrelevant in its contribution to the functioning of the biosphere. It may well be a matter of regret, just as there is always regret when a language becomes extinct from disuse. But apart from providing entertainment value for humans, the saving of a few members of a doomed species provides no real benefit for the functioning of the biosphere. I would be very sorry to see tigers becoming extinct, but the reality is that their numbers are so low that they play no significant part in the sustenance of the biosphere. The role of a predator species is primarily to control the population of its prey. From a biodiversity point of view they are already irrelevant. Saving the tiger has nothing to do with maintaining a healthy biodiversity and everything to do with human entertainment (including that of the conservationists) and “feeling good”.

(I am of the opinion that helping an endangered species to survive can be desirable but then “conservation” should be based on helping that species to adapt genetically rather than to freeze it into an artificial habitat – zoos and reserves – to which it is not suited).

At one time there was just a single species that all life derives from – perhaps even just one living cell. (And even for creationists, all the diversity of humankind has derived from a single mating pair – and the raging incest that that implies). There was no biodiversity to begin with. Genetic variation with each generation and genetic mutations then caused new species to come into being, first to fill up the spaces that the prevailing environment allowed and then to adapt to changing environments. If each generation of the first species had bred true there would, of course, be no biodiversity. Genetic variation and empty space in the environment led to growth of species. Overcrowding of a given space or drastic environment change cause the decline and extinction of species. The prevailing level of “biodiversity” at any time is not then some target to be achieved, but just the current balance between the birth and death of species.

It seems almost self-evident to me that, for any given environment there must be an optimum number of species, with particular combinations of characteristics, which allow the ecosystem or biosphere to be in a self-sustaining equilibrium (not growing or declining but self-sustaining). This optimum will vary depending upon the characteristics and interactions between the particular species existing and the available space in the prevailing environment. Then, having fewer than the optimum number of species in that environment would mean that all the complex interdependent, interactions between species that seem to be necessary for sustaining each of the participating species would not be fully developed. I say “seem” because it is not certain that all interdependencies are necessarily of benefit to individual species. “It is the entire ecosystem which benefits” I hear some say, but even that is more an assumption than a conclusion.

But what would happen in such a situation?  If the interactions are truly necessary, then some of these sub-optimal number of species should logically be on the way to stagnation or to extinction. But it is not certain that some new equilibrium will not be reached. One species too few for a given environmental space will only lead to the space being occupied by an existing or a new species. One species too many for a given space will lead to the extinction of a redundant species or of a number of species existing under genetic stress, until genetic variation reduced the stress. The interactions between species in any environment are not planned in advance. They are just those that happen to prevail and survive because they succeed in the environmental space available. Too few species will give an increase of species until overcrowding reduces the number of species. A rapid change of environment and a reduction of the space available must give a decrease in the number of species making up the optimum for a self-sustaining biosphere.

Generally species of plant life have increased in the wake of human habitations.

For example, more than 4,000 plant species introduced into North America during the past 400 years grow naturally here and now constitute nearly 20 percent of the continent’s vascular plant biodiversity.

But then we try to eradicate “invasive” species even though that represents a decrease in biodiversity. Clearly some biodiversity “is not good”. We hunt down successful species as pests when they reach and thrive in new or empty environmental spaces. We protect and support unsuccessful (failed) species in the name of conservation and biodiversity. We have no qualms in trying to eradicate insects, microbes and bacteria which cause human disease even if biodiversity is consequently reduced. From the perspective of the biodiversity of the genetic pool, losing a species of some unknown bacteria may be just as significant as the extinction of the elephant.

The rate of growth of the human species has meant that other species have not been able to adapt fast enough – genetically – to their loss of habitat or the increase of competition. The environmental space available to them has drastically reduced. But that is reality. Creating artificially unsustainable habitats will not change that. The optimum level of biodiversity for the environmental space today is different to that of 100 years ago. Biodiversity cannot be considered independently of the environmental space available. Conservationism which seeks to maintain the wrong level of biodiversity for the available space seems to me to be both futile and stupid. Especially when conservationism has no idea what the “optimum” level of biodiversity is and whether the current level lies above or below the optimum level.

 

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Another duck species being exterminated for being successful

August 8, 2014

The inconsistencies in the “conservation” movement and the meaningless defence of “biodiversity” have never been so apparent as in this case where the UK is wiping out all the females of a duck species just because the males are too successful.

Once again an inadequate and failing species is being “protected” by exterminating a successful one for no other reason than that it is successful. The nonsense spouted in the name of “conservationism” is amusing but always expensive and without any real benefit.

The Guardian:

It is American, oversexed and over here, but the days of the ruddy duck in the UK are finally numbered, with the latest culling data revealing that just 10 females remain.

The shooting of the final few – at about £3,000 a bird – will mark the end of half a century of occupation by the species. At their peak, their numbers reached 6,500 but their breeding prowess threatened the native European white-headed duck. 

The invasion began in 1948 when the famed conservationist Sir Peter Scott’s love for ducks led him to import three pairs of the colourful US birds to his Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire. But their escape and consequent flourishing in the British countryside led to an anguished debate among ornithologists decades later, as well as a nationwide cull that has cost more than £5m. …… 

Apart from their success in the duck world they don’t seem to pose any particular threat to humans

The problem is that the “sexy” males ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are preferred by female white-headed ducks. The resulting hybrid offspring threatened the survival of the white-headed duck, which was already struggling with habitat loss due to development. “Ruddy duck males are particularly aggressive when it comes to breeding and court females more vigorously,” said Madge. “That makes them more attractive to female white-headed ducks.”

The UK ruddy ducks also spread their wings across Europe, into France, Belgium, the Netherlands and into Spain. The discovery of hybrids in the latter country in the 1990s showed the ducks had grown into a continent-wide threat and that sealed their fate. The following year, an eradication programme began in the UK and a marksmen who has been part of the cull since then told the Guardian the birds fulfil the idea of a sitting duck.

Clearly gender equality is not something for ducks when the females are culled for the “sins” of the males. If ruddy duck males are preferred by the female white-headed ducks (and they have no problem in breeding together) why are these “conservationists” not allowing natural selection to take its course?

If male conservationists were preferred by normal females then perhaps the solution is to eradicate all female conservationists?

Related: Too much biodiversity – time to let some species die out

Too much biodiversity – time to let some species die out

July 28, 2014

Conservationists would have us believe that the earth is losing species at an alarming rate and that evil humanity is to blame and therefore more and more species must be protected by “freezing” them into an unnatural existence. Alarmist “conservationism” has led to the ridiculous situation where successful species are termed pests and are eradicated. Hopelessly unfit species – if they are cuddly or otherwise attractive to watch – are protected by being sentenced to a “frozen” existence in zoos or in “protected” and totally unnatural and anachronistic habitats.

I was just watching a program about the highly successful urban coyotes of N. America. They have found a new prey in domestic pets and are thriving. But having adapted successfully to the changing environment they have – needless to say – earned  the status of being declared a pest to be wiped out!!

And yet there have never been more species alive than there are today.

A new review paper warns with great alarm about another impending mass extinction due to the loss of fauna that man has caused. The press release for this paper (why do scientific papers need press releases?) begins thus:

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

If biodiversity “is the highest in the history of life” and many species are incapable of adapting to the world they live in, perhaps it is time for them to exit gracefully.

Perhaps the progress of humankind requires that some of these obsolete species must be allowed to disappear.

The dangers of reducing biodiversity are being hyped to a ridiculous extent. Without the mass extinctions of the past, most of the species living today would never have evolved. If the dinosaurs had not gone extinct we would not be around. And the disappearance of the dodo has not increased any threat to humanity.

Related:

Fighting against species extinction is to deny evolution

Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species

Polar bear numbers systematically underestimated by 25-30%

May 31, 2014

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a conservation lobby group. As with all advocacy groups (WWF, FoE, Greenpeace….) much of their “science” has to be taken with a large bushel of salt. Needless to say they have “observer” status at the UN. In any event they have a Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) and much of the unfounded alarmism about the polar bear being a threatened species originates with them. As with other advocacy groups they systematically ignore data which does not advance their theses. They are not averse to data manipulation when it suits them.

In fact polar bears are thriving. The IUCN -PBSG now admits – in a little footnote – that their numbers in 5 large zones have just been ignored and set to zero for lack of data. Actual polar bear numbers are probably well in excess of 30,000. Since 2001, the PBSG has systematically ignored 5 large sub-populations of polar bears as Dr. Susan Crockford reports on her blog:

…. none of these ‘global population estimates’ (from 2001 onward) came anywhere close to being estimates of the actual world population size of polar bears (regardless of how scientifically inaccurate they might have been) — rather, they were estimates of only the subpopulations that Arctic biologists have tried to count.

For example, the PBSG’s  most recent global estimate (range 13,071-24,238) ignores five very large subpopulation regions which between them potentially contain 1/3 as many additional bears as the official estimate includes (see map below). The PBSG effectively gives them each an estimate of zero.

Based on previous PBSG estimates and other research reports, it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG “global population estimate”: Chukchi Sea ~2,000-3,000; East Greenland, ~ 2,000-3,000; the two Russian regions together (Laptev Sea and Kara Sea), another ~2,000-3,000 or so, plus 200 or so in the central Arctic Basin. These are guesses, to be sure, but they at least give a potential size.

I find the entire thrust of Conservationism to be fundamentally flawed. Threatened species are genetic and evolutionary failures in the sense that they do not have the genetic variability necessary to continue in a changing world. Trying to stop the change they cannot cope with is a futile exercise. If conservation of a species has to mean anything, then selected, threatened species have to be helped to adapt to the inevitable change – genetically if necessary.


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