Reviving extinct genetic diversity #Resurrection Ecology

Is it time to define a new field? By Nadine Lymn, ESA public affairs director This is the first in a series of EcoTone posts on a recent TEDxDeExtinction event. You can watch the presentations, hosted by the National Geographic Society, here.  The talks will be edited and posted to YouTube in a few weeks.  NGS showcases de-extinction in the lead story of its April issue here.  “Maybe it’s time to coin a new term,” said Stanley Temple, a long-time conservation biologist who played key roles in preventing species such as the Peregrine Falcon and Whooping Crane from going extinct.  We were already well into the ‘Why & Why Not’ portion of TEDxDeExtinction on Friday, March 15, and it was clear that Temple, the man who occupied Aldo Leopold’s chair at the University of Wisconsin for 32 years, has deep reservations about reversing extinction through genetic engineering.  But he also clearly believes that conservation biologists need to be part of developments as the quest to revive extinct species inevitably moves forward.  Thus: “Resurrection Ecology.” Update [3/21/13, 4 PM] Temple told me he misspoke and meant to say “Resurrection BIOLOGY” since resurrection ecology has been applied to a different topic–limnologists who dredge up eggs from lake sediment to reconstruct past community structure. After listening to 6 hours of TEDxDeExtinction presentations last Friday, my head was spinning with gripping stories of charismatic and extinct species such as the Thylacine (a meat-eating marsupial—its name means dog-headed, pouched one), the biological, ethical and political dilemmas of “bringing back” species, and descriptions of the genetic techniques underway to make this is a reality. Several themes threaded throughout the event.  Here are two of them that are closely intertwined: 1. A strong concern that revival of extinct species could make current efforts to save endangered species even harder, and 2. The potential for gene technology to help save today’s endangered species. To the first theme: “We’ve got our hands full” trying to save what’s still here now, said Stanley Temple. Temple, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, is worried that de-extinction efforts could destabilize already difficult conservation efforts. We already have a tendency to rely on technological “fixes”, he said. If extinction isn’t forever, then the attitude could become, ‘let it go extinct, we can always bring it back later.’ But are too many of us already either unconcerned or feeling helpless about the many species slipping into extinction?  Would revival of extinct species give a green light to a more cavalier attitude towards loss of species? Rutgers University biology professor David Ehrenfeld wants people to consider this: While some are talking about...

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Persevering pikas, herbicide inhalation in farm states and prehistoric pathogens

Southern Rockies picas unaffected by climate change: A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that American pikas, despite being temperature-sensitive animals, have not been adversely impacted by climate change. The researchers who conducted the study assessed 69 historical sites known to host pikas within the southern Rockies ranging from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico. The results showed that 65 of the 69 sites have retained their pika populations. The study was funded primarily by the National Geographic Society. The new study stands in contrast to a study from another research group earlier this year in Nevada’s Great Basin that showed a nearly five-fold increase in local extinction rates of pika populations in the past decade. The different results may be because the more recent study area of the southern Rocky Mountains offers habitats in higher elevations that are also more contiguous than are habitats in Nevada’s Great Basin, according to the study’s researchers. The American pika, which shares its mammal family order with rabbits and hares (lagomorpha), lives in mountainous regions including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, California and New Mexico. In 2010, the U.S. federal government denied an endangered species listing for the American pika partially because there were insufficient data on its distribution and abundance across western North America. Federal scientists find herbicide in air, water samples: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists report that air and water samples taken from the states of Mississippi and Iowa show that there are considerable levels of a harmful herbicide in the air and water within the states. The federal agency scientists reported that there were significant levels of the chemical glyphosate (used in “Roundup” herbicide) found in every stream sample examined in Mississippi in a two-year period as well as in the majority of air samples. This means people have been inhaling the herbicide, though no known detrimental effects have been yet documented. According to USGS, it is difficult and costly to test for the presence of glyphosate, which is why there has been so little research on its impacts on air and water to date. The herbicide is the most-used worldwide where it is applied to  residential yards, golf courses and farm fields.  Scientific studies have revealed that its wide use has led to glyphosate-resistant ‘super weeds.” USGS scientists affirm that more research is necessary to document effects on soil organisms, plants, animals and people. The USGS data has been submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for further review. Read more at “U.S. researchers find roundup chemical in water, air” Prehistoric pathogens: DNA contained in recently acquired...

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