A new University of Queensland-led study argues that environmental decision science approaches can be used to consider the feasibility of drastic conservation actions such as bringing back extinct species (de-extinction).
Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions Dr Gwen Iacona said that scientific decision tools - such as mathematical modelling - used in modern conservation prioritisation could quantitatively and transparently weigh the pros and cons of potential de-extinction initiatives.
“This is especially relevant to managing a possible de-extinct species in the wild in systems where there are species of conservation concern still existing,” she said.
Dr Iacona said the technology to revive extinct species may soon no longer be simply the realm of science fiction.
“If there is an excited rush to bring back population of wild mammoths, or moa, or passenger pigeons, we need to take a step back and make sure that the conservation benefits of such an action outweighs any potential perverse negative impacts,” she said.
The study discusses new considerations that would be important if de-extinction was a possible conservation action.
“One particularly interesting implication of de-extinction would be its capacity to change the biodiversity conservation problem from the current one that is similar to managing non-renewable natural resources, to a version where the management is of a potentially renewable natural resource,” she said.
“This switch opens up a new suite of time preference and risk aspects to rare species management which could change the strategies employed by managers and the possible conservation outcomes”.
“We are not arguing for or against de-extinction. Instead, we are proposing that technological advances need to be considered within the context of the existing conservation landscape, and that such considerations may include unprecedented modifications to the current species prioritisation problem.”
Recently Professor Hugh Possingham and co-authors argued that bringing back extinct species could lead to biodiversity loss rather than gain, and suggested further stretching already strained conservation budgets to cover the costs of de-extinction could endanger extant species (species still in existence).
Professor Possingham, who is also a co-author on the new paper, is Chief Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation organisation, and a scientist with UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, The Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at UQ, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub.
Dr Iacona is lead author on the new paper in the Functional Ecology special issue on de-extinction publishing 4 May, with former CEED researcher Joseph Bennett also a co-author. (DOI 10.1111/1365-2435.12720). Co-authors also include researchers at CSIRO, Dutton Park, Brisbane; Department of Conservation, Christchurch, New Zealand; and the University of Otago, New Zealand.