Monday, March 25, 2013

Is Extinction Extinct?

This blog focuses on New Jersey species that are threatened or endangered. I don't spend much time on extinct species because - well, because they are extinct. They are gone forever.

Or are they gone forever?

The Carolina parakeet, Eskimo curlew, heath hen, Labrador duck and the passenger pigeon species have been lost forever from New Jersey and from the planet.

This month, National Geographic hosted TEDxDeExtinction, a daylong conference on species-revival science and ethics. They have also published a new cover story on de-extinction.

It sounds great that we might be able to bring back a species that we thought was gone. But the idea has opponents and supporters. Bringing back extinct species is a chance to redeem human sins, says one conservationist. An ecologist counters with a No, saying that "resurrection science" is a fantasy that harms species that need help now.

This video looks at how the red-breasted American passenger pigeon,
hunted to extinction a century ago, could be revived from museum specimens.

The arguments in favor of resurrecting species could be the same arguments for why we protect endangered species today: to preserve biodiversity, to restore diminished ecosystems, to advance the science of preventing extinctions, and to undo harm that humans have caused.

De-extinction is shocking in that we assumed extinction was irreversible and final. As with our own local success stories in NJ, such as the bald eagle, de-extinction gives us hope.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has its famous "Red List" of endangered species. It also has created more hopeful "Green Lists" of species that are stable and species that were in trouble and with protection are now doing better, as well as protected wild lands in the world that are well managed.

That heath hen(Tympanuchus cupido cupido) was once found in NJ and along the coastal plain from Massachusetts to Virginia in the south. They were very common during Colonial times, but unregulated hunting for food and sport caused this species to become extinct by 1932. It was hunted for both food and sport. By the time protection was considered, the population was limited to a small number on Martha’s Vineyard. Predation by goshawks and feral cats, disease introduced by domestic poultry, and inbreeding finally led to the species’ extinction.

Extinct species of New Jersey
The promise and pitfalls of resurrection ecology by Brian Switek
Resurrecting a forest, by Carl Zimmer
Will cloning ever save endangered animals? by Ferris Jabr

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