Restoring species no easy task

The goal of protecting threatened animal species in a pristine, untouched habitat is becoming “increasingly unobtainable” according to a new article in Science.

The kakapo is an example of a species moved out of its native environment to prevent extinction.

The research review from New Zealand scientists highlights Earth’s disappearing animals as well as the complications that arise when humans try to conserve them.

The article, authored by Prof Philip Seddon from the University of Otago and colleagues, was published as part of a special issue of the journal exploring the extinction threats faced by animals and strategies to prevent this ‘de-faunation’ of the planet.

The authors warn that saving animals from extinction may require moving them to new areas — as was the case with Tasmanian devils. Other strategies included introducing new species into an existing ecosystem as a replacement to maintain food webs. For example, to restore grazing functions and the seed dispersal of native large-seeded plants, exotic Aldabra giant tortoises have been introduced to Mauritian offshore islands to replace the extinct Mauritian giant tortoises. Such efforts, while controversial, are becoming more necessary, write the authors.

And there may be even more controversial strategies on the horizon. “The prospect of bringing back extinct species through advanced technologies creates a further conundrum,” said Prof Seddon in a media release. “If potential de-extinction of multiple species does become a reality, which species should be resurrected, and which habitats should they be introduced to?”

In an earlier article in the University of Otago Magazine, Prof Seddon intimated that if we could bring back only one species, he would choose one of the smaller species of New Zealand’s moa.

Prof Seddon’s co-authors included Massey University’s Prof Doug Armstrong and colleagues from the UK and United Arab Emirates.

The research has received local and international coverage. Examples include:

USA Today: Study: Earth in the midst of sixth mass extinction
NBC News: Back From the Dead: Why De-Extinction May Save Humanity
Otago Daily Times: Focus moving to whole environment
MSN NZ News: New habitats may stop extinctions: report
3 News: ‘Garden of Eden’ cold save endangered species
NZ Herald:Saving species may need controversial methods

Prof Seddon’s work was also recently profiled in a feature article in the Otago Daily Times.