Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Diamonds Are Forever. Extinction Isn't.
In Australia, researchers at the University of Queensland have compiled a global database on mammals identified as "missing" (a category to which they assign extinct species as well as those "critically endangered and possibly extinct"). The database includes records dating as far back as 1500. In the September 2010 issue of Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, mammal ecologist Diana Fisher and statistical ecologist Simon Blomberg report that of the 187 missing species, 67 have been rediscovered. Based on their analysis of factors like date of last sighting and probable cause of extinction, they offer advice for conservationists. Mammals that are wide-ranging, have been missing for not more than 100 years, and are believed to have been killed off by habitat loss are most likely to be recovered; those killed off by predators, disease, or hunting are least likely. Unfortunately that second group includes charismatic mammals like the Tasmanian tiger, for which 25 major searches and countless amateur hunts have been launched. Those bad-bet expeditions happen at the expense of better-bet efforts to save non-celebrity species like the Australian lesser stick-nest rat, thought to have met its end through habitat loss. The researchers advise conservationists to check their data, not their hearts, and apportion their resources to species with a reasonable chances of recovery.