Study: Resurrecting Extinct Species Could Harm Living Ones

De-extinction efforts could divert resources away from conserving endangered species.

By | February 28, 2017

FLICKR, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY Scientists hope to bring back extinct species, such as the wooly mammoth, by genetically engineering embryos from their closest living relatives. De-extinction efforts, however, could divert much-needed resources away from animals that are endangered, according to a study published yesterday (Feburary 27) in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

"On one hand, we can bring back the dead and right past wrongs," study co-author Joseph Bennett, a conservation biologist at Carleton University in Canada told Popular Science. "On the other hand, there are many species going extinct every year, and our resources to help save them are severely limited."

Bennet and his team estimated the cost of bringing back extinct species in New Zealand and Australia, and compared that to existing calculations of how much it costs to conserve endangered species in those areas. In New Zealand, they found that bringing back 11 extinct species would cost as much as conserving 31 endangered species. In Australia, the funds required to save five species could instead be redirected to save 42 living species. One of the reasons extinct species cost more to maintain, Popular Science reportsis because many resurrected species may face the same threats that made them go extinct in the first place, such as habitat loss or predators. 

“If the risk of failure and the costs associated with establishing viable populations could also be calculated, estimates of potential net losses or missed opportunities would probably be considerably higher,” co-author Hugh Possingham, a University of Queensland professor, said in a statement.

“The dominant message in this analysis appears to be that doing de-extinction en masse would be counterproductive,” Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the study, told Science. “If this is ethically messy, ecologically awkward, and now also really expensive—I’m out.”

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Avatar of: Neurona

Neurona

Posts: 70

February 28, 2017

What McCauley said, but also: the resurrected offspring will never be reared by mothers/others of their own species.  This may well result in profound behavioral abnormalities that are especially distressing (and possibly dangerous) in highly social, long-lived, big-brained animals such as elephants. 

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 125

February 28, 2017

This sounds to me like a prime example of the hysterical subjunctive. It is always possible to imagine some dire consequences of doing anything.

For one thing, "doing de-extinction en masse" would not be a plausible consequence of learning how to achieve de-extinction of a few species. But equipping ourselves with the tools that would emerge from a few successful resurrections (after all, we don't yet know what would work satisfactorily and the whole idea is still a twinkle in a few eyes looking into different shaving mirrors) would put us into an equivalently stronger position to save still extant, but threatened species more easily than resurrecting extinct species.

I say stop caterwauling and get down to business as sanely and soberly as possible and leave the whiners to argue. After some material successes and visible progress, they will shut up; not everyone is a Proxmire or a Rifkin.

Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 229

Replied to a comment from JonRichfield made on February 28, 2017

March 1, 2017

Totally agree.  Why do we even have zoos? To gain an appreciation for the present so that the future isn't so bleak.  Adding extinct animals, along with the story of how difficult it took to attain those few, few examples, can only help the conservation effort.

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