Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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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.

Tags: biodiversity, conservation, debate, ecology, endangered species, ethics, extinction, pandas

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