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But this revisionist thinking shows a lack of understanding of evolution and an ignorance of the natural world.
He and colleagues collected several that, he reassured us, “are now breeding safely in captivity.” As we breathed a sigh of relief, Pyron added, “But they will go extinct one day, and the world will be none the poorer for it.” I happen to be writing this in the Peruvian Amazon, having just returned from a night walk to a light-trap where I helped a biologist collect moths. So it’s a good night to mention that the number of species in an area carries the technical term “species richness.” More is richer, and fewer is, indeed, poorer. Three causes of mass extinctions — prolonged worldwide atmosphere-altering volcanic eruptions; a dinosaur-snuffing asteroid hit; and the spreading agriculture, settlement, and sheer human appetite driving extinctions today — are unrelated.
Pyron’s view lies outside scientific consensus and societal values. The conviction that today’s slides toward mass extinction are not inevitable, and could be lessened or avoided, spurred the founding of the conservation movement and created the discipline of conservation biology. “Extinction is the engine of evolution, the mechanism by which natural selection prunes the poorly adapted and allows the hardiest to flourish,” he declared.
Details of how the status of Methods has been established may be obtained by reading the relevant Proceedings.
A number of biologists have recently made the argument that extinction is part of evolution and that saving species need not be a conservation priority.
Conservation International ditched its exuberant tropical forest graphic for a new corporate logo whose circle and line were designed to suggest a human head and outstretched arms.
A few years ago, Peter Kareiva, then chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, said, “conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness,” for “a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.” Human annihilation of the passenger pigeon, he wrote, caused “no catastrophic or even measurable effects,” characterizing the total extinction of the hemisphere’s most abundant bird — whose population went from billions to zero inside a century (certainly a “measurable effect” in itself) — as an example of nature’s “resilience.” argues that the destruction of nature creates opportunities for evolution of new lifeforms that counterbalance any losses we create, an idea that is certainly optimistic considering the burgeoning lists of endangered species.
And where he stepped out of his field into ethics, what he wrote was conceptually confused.
Pyron has since posted, on his website and Facebook page, 1,100 words of frantic backpedaling that land somewhere between apology and retraction, including that he “sensationalized” parts of his own argument and “cavalierly glossed over several complex issues.” But Pyron’s original essay and his muddled apology do not change the fact that the beliefs he expressed reflect a disturbing trend that has taken hold among segments of the conservation community.
He’s entitled to his apathy, but no biologist is entitled to butcher the scientific fundamentals on which they hang their opinions.
Pyron began with a resonant story about his nocturnal rediscovery of a South American frog that had been thought recently extinct. Knowing them helps detangle a little bit of how this rainforest works.