?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Biodiversity: The New Quiche?

gondhir: Yew want my advice on whether to kill [a spider on my screen] and satisfy yer fleeting manly desire to KILL or to let it live and satisfy yer wimpy, feminine desire for life and "biodiversity"?

So! We come to the crux of it. Are real men not biodiverse (that is, advocates of biodiversity) in this day and age?

zengeneral opined here that the hunting to extinction of the giant panda is part of the natural scheme of things, posing the question: Why conserve moribund species?

First, I recapitulate my layperson's argument.

Wrote the evolutionary ecologist Aldo Leopold:
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

So why is biodiversity good? According to Wikipedia:

  • 1. Regulatory function: supports of production (soil fertility, pollinators of plants, predators, decomposition of wastes); services such as purification of the air and water, stabilisation and moderation of the climate, mitigation of environmental disasters. IOW, as the ecosphere's buffer against damage.

  • 2. Economics: food (agricultural and horticultural crops), natural medicines (esp. narcotics), clothing, timber, tourism

  • 3. Ethical: the argument that causing extinction due to overhunting or "unnatural" reasons is wrong

  • 4. Scientific: understanding the ecological function, the genome/proteome/metabolome of the organism


#3 is arguable, since I (personally) can't tell you what specific niche a giant panda fills. #4 is hard to argue against even if we have sequenced the giant panda and are able to simulate its development, even if we can "recover" the species from stored germplasm. To answer your question, though, the PROC obviously things of #2 first, both in terms of tourism and of national prestige. The bears are mascots; they are unique symbols of China's custodianship; and they also happen to be one of the few rare animals of which we Chinese have not yet eaten every specimen.

I then asked what stock zengeneral put in owning panda pelts or tasting da4 xiong2 mao1 meat, which by all accounts is pretty gross. "Utility," he answered.

And so I toss it out to you. Clearly we are oversentimental, or too posturing, when it comes to conserving certain species. That aside: how far should humans go to control extinctions? In particular, how much responsibility for custodianship do we have? Are the far-ranging impacts of our technology-aided expansion, and those of the technology itself, part of that responsibility? Can any of it be written off as "natural selection"?

Any biologists, particularly ecologists, reading this: I would especially like your informed opinion.

--
Banazir

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
oxbastetxo
Jul. 20th, 2005 04:07 am (UTC)
It's a spider...squish it!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, I'm bias against spiders, but after two years of dealing with infestations of yellow sac spiders which seem to think I'm fun to much, I say kill'em...kill'em all!!!!

Yellow sac spiders are highly aggressive and their venom is similar, but not as toxic as a combo of black widow and brown recluse. Not only do you get nasty bits that get infected, you get flu like symptoms. I've averaged about 20 to 30 bites a winter and have had to see my dr on several occasions due to dealing with the bites and toxin symptoms. He's the one who identified the species for me.
gondhir
Jul. 20th, 2005 04:08 am (UTC)
So! We come to the crux of it. Are real men not biodiverse (that is, advocates of biodiversity) in this day and age?
Clearly, you need a lesson in sarcasm. ;)

3. Ethical: the argument that causing extinction due to overhunting or "unnatural" reasons is wrong
#3 is arguable, since I (personally) can't tell you what specific niche a giant panda fills.

It's the bamboo-eating niche. Regardless, I don't see what a niche has to do with the ethical argument. If it's ethically wrong to cause extinction on general principle, then it is regardless of the niche the organism fills.

how far should humans go to control extinctions?
How far should murderers go to control crime?

Perhaps that's an unfair comparison, but my point is that these extinctions we're trying to control aren't just random extinctions that were going to happen anyway but that we're trying to regulate. They're extinctions that are happening, more or less directly, due to human actions. It's one thing for, say, the police to say that they're going to try to control crime because (usually) they're not the ones creating the crime, but are attempting to control externam events. But murderers are directly causing crime and them attempting to "control crime" is merely them attempting to limit the damage they themselves do.
illusio
Jul. 20th, 2005 05:55 pm (UTC)
nice analogy.
de_profundiis
Jul. 21st, 2005 01:33 pm (UTC)
my point exactly!
spoothbrush
Jul. 20th, 2005 04:32 am (UTC)
The thing is that natural selection, as I understand it (and admittedly my understanding has been strongly influenced by Dawkins's work) doesn't care at all about the good of the biosphere, or even the species, or about the long-term effects of an organism's actions: natural selection doesn't give us any responsibility for any other species, all it gives us the "responsibility" to do is to make as many copies of our genes as we can that will in turn successfully make more copies. Doing any sort of long-term planning isn't really within that scope. And changing our behavior or making sacrifices of our own to protect others, even if it'll be better for us in the long run, can't be selected for because in the short term it makes it harder to make those self-copying copies of our genes. Natural selection doesn't care if the rest of our species dies out, so long as our descendents make it...

So natural selection doesn't make any real argument for caring for other species. If there's a reason to do so, then, we ought to find it on a higher level: so we can ask questions like "Is this species useful to us?"

Somewhat tangentially, I was recently considering the possibility that humans manage to drive ourselves and many many other species extinct, ending the Age of Mammals... and wondering what sort of life forms might evolve from cockroaches with no major predators or competitors.
gondhir
Jul. 20th, 2005 07:46 am (UTC)
Which is why no one should attempt to use natural selection to make moral decisions any more than they use the law of gravity to make moral decisions.
oxbastetxo
Jul. 20th, 2005 01:31 pm (UTC)
and wondering what sort of life forms might evolve from cockroaches with no major predators or competitors.

The Wraith?

LOL..sorry..couldn't resist.
illusio
Jul. 20th, 2005 06:02 pm (UTC)
i don't see the protection of other species as a 'quiche eating' sort of thing at all. ;p

the plight of the other creatures on this planet worries me quite a bit. i don't like seeing a field that was once a habitat transform overnight into another office complex. where do they go?? where can they go? they're running out of space. i think we should leave the planet to them, take our kick-ass technology, and go colonize some barren rock until we can learn to appreciate what we've got here.

anyway, the spider didn't do anything to you, most likely. can you imagine what it would feel like to be crushed, as you were contemplating doing to it? that thought makes me a little ill. look at its form, could you create anything that beautiful? unless you think you can replace that poor spider with something else just as wondrously complex and funtional as it is...

i don't like death :( i try really hard not to kill things anymore.
gondhir
Jul. 20th, 2005 10:53 pm (UTC)
i don't see the protection of other species as a 'quiche eating' sort of thing at all. ;p
It's "BAMBOO eating!"

i think we should leave the planet to them, take our kick-ass technology, and go colonize some barren rock until we can learn to appreciate what we've got here.
Interestingly, that's exactly the goal in SimEarth. Get some species to attain sentience, rise in technological level, and abandon the planet, setting it aside as a nature preserve.

However, I don't think we're anywhere near that level of technology yet.

unless you think you can replace that poor spider with something else just as wondrously complex and funtional as it is...
Remember, you're commenting on the LJ of an AI/robot researcher. ;)
zengeneral
Jul. 20th, 2005 10:25 pm (UTC)
...
a) there are no mass extinctions going on
b) earth is the most biodiverse since the dinosaurs got erased
- - -
Conclusion:
biodiversity is good, but biodiversity is being used as a tool against capitalism from anti-corporate smucks. The fun fact that not many hippies will concur is, most crimes against biodiversity are not done by corporations. Rather, they are done by poor people. (ala, rain forest and those poor animals including pandas (boo-hoo)).

Now, does a panda matter? NO
can we use them for manual labor? not without breaking laws
can we eat them? not without breaking laws
can we use their pelts for winter? not without breaking laws
can we grind their bones to dust for some voodoo recipe? not without breaking laws
can they instruct us on any field? doubtful
do they hold the secret to cancer? most likely not

So, their only use is "they are cute"... Well, thats a silly reason.

Poor Chinese Farmer: "Panda come to my farm, eat my food, shit everywhere, and yet, if I kill it, then I go to jail".

Some things are meant to die, and yet for some inane reason, we want to keep cute (possibly untasty animals) alive. this is where I say, "wtf?"
kaladhwen
Jul. 21st, 2005 11:17 am (UTC)
Um. If it has more than 4 legs, and it tries to live in this house, and I see it, it dies.

Who cares about biodiversity? Honestly I almost said, I don't care if spiders were extinct, but then I think we'd have a bug problem.

But seriously. Can't they just be extinct where I live? *innocent* When I've gotten panic attacks sometimes because spiders have freaked me out so much, uh, yes, they die.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

December 2008
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

KSU Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (GEC) Lab

Teunciness

Breakfast

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Communities

Fresh Pages

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Naoto Kishi