Woolly Mammoth or Thylacine? New Guide Helps Choose Which Species to Resurrect

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The idea of bringing extinct species back to life has transitioned from science fiction to near reality in recent years, with some scientists saying the passenger pigeon — a bird that once clouded North American skies but went extinct due to over-hunting in the early 1900s — could reenter the world within the next several years.

But amidst the exciting prospects of seeing these birds take to the skies again, or perhaps one day spotting a woolly mammoth tromp through Siberia, some researchers have urged those involved in so-called de-extinction to carefully consider the ecological risks of reintroducing species to the wild — before choosing to bring back any particular species. Reintroduced species could pose risks by threatening other animals (by preying on them or spreading parasites); endangering humans with physical harm; or jeopardizing aspects of ecosystems humans rely on.

"This is very similar to any species you would reintroduce in the world," Axel Moehrenschlager, a researcher at the Center for Conservation Research at the Calgary Zoological Society in Canada, told Live Science. "Whenever you put a species back into a place where it has disappeared, there will be an array of risks."

New guidelines

Moehrenschlager has worked with colleagues to develop a framework of 10 questions that will help scientists systematically assess the ecological risks associated with introducing animals back into the wild, based on questions used by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to assess the effects of introducing existing species into new habitats.

The newly proposed questions address several topics: whether enough is known about both the cause of extinction and the ecological needs of candidate animals to ensure healthy living moving forward; if sufficient habitat exists for candidates in the modern world; if humans will be harmed by reintroduction; if other species will be harmed by reintroduction; and whether it will be possible to remove the individuals in the event that they have a negative impact.

The researchers tested the framework on three extinct species: the baiji dolphin, native to the Yangtze River in China; the Xerces blue butterfly, native to coastal California; and the thylacine, native to Tasmania, Australia. The baiji dolphin went extinct in 2006, the Xerces blue butterfly in 1941 and the thylacine in 1936.

Written By: Laura Poppick
continue to source article at livescience.com

15 COMMENTS

  1. Fail to heed the lessons from “Jurassic Park” at your peril! We all know how that turned out. Like most people I’d like to see animals such as the thylacine brought back to life, but I think it would be a very risky venture to return them to their original habitat.

  2. Maybe a starting point as an ethical rule of thumb would be to first resurrect whichever extinct species represents the least threat to all other surviving endangered species. Then make space in the ecosystem by extincting whichever globally distributed species is ecologically dysfunctional and not well integrated, and which also happens to top the list as the greatest threat to all other species.

    I’m not sure that the technology for species resurrection is sufficiently developed yet. But the hardest work is already done: Global extinction technology has already been refined, tested, and can be fully operational on a moment’s notice. Some of the world’s greatest political leaders are working at this right now.

    • In reply to #3 by Pete H:

      Maybe a starting point as an ethical rule of thumb would be to first resurrect whichever extinct species represents the least threat to all other surviving endangered species. Then make space in the ecosystem by extincting whichever globally distributed species is ecologically dysfunctional and not…

      Intersting, in both cases here the extinction is fairly recent the Tasmainian Tiger being most recent. The Tasmainan Tiger also has the advantage of having its home territory being surrounded by sea. Also its natural competition would be wild dogs and foxes both introduced pest species.

      However I wouldn’t imagine even if they were able to bring one back that it would be easy to get sufficent genetic diversity to make a population viable, you’d need of course as a minimum a male and female, I’ve seen Thylacine pups preserved in formaldahide in Syndey Museum but I assume they were from the same litter (it’s been over 20 years since I saw them I can’t remember if it was one or several. Still it’s progress. It also makes me think we need to keeping samples of endangered animals sperm and eggs where possible, and sequencing genomes (including mitocondiral) as rapidly as possible, as you say we are doing a fair bit of damage and may have some undoing to do in the future when we realise how valuable biodiversity is.

      • That’s one hypothesis. Experimental testing on this may be required. Perhaps via social engineering.

        Just need to pick the right moment, then spend a few hours on the phone at the right time. Basically a few prank calls: Maybe 1 to Putin, pretending to be from Obama mentioning what the CIA have found out about what really happened in the Jewish-nazi gay sex club division of the KGB back in the day. Then another to Obama pretending to be Putin, Maybe mention that the KGB knows who is the real father on the real birth certificate etc. Then load up a couple of light aircraft with a few shopping bags full of aluminium kitchen foil and some weather balloons, fly well to the west coast of Alaska, Sarah Palin may assist here, then inflate weather balloons with hydrogen, tear foil into strips attach to balloons, then throw the stuff out the door. Approx 20 or 30 mins later there should be a major step forwards in global ecological health.

        Probably need to also involve other dysfunctional population centres: the Chinese, French, North Koreans, Iranians, etc. These world leaders are very much more easily offended, so should be much easier to trigger the relevant response.

        But mass extinction of the dominant parasite is a fairly blunt instrument. Perhaps people need to undertake more subtle ecological engineering more along the lines of the acclimatisation societies which sprang to prominence following the time of Charles Darwin. (I think that most Victorian era duck ponds, botanical gardens, and zoos, may be a consequence of this movement.) Purpose being to arrange to successfully introduce exotic English species of plants, birds, insects, fish, mammals etc. to make places like Australia more like the real world of England. (No need to mention failures like the English cricket at this point!)

        I may be confabulating memories here but I vaguely recall a prominent Aussie expert and keen environmentalist who lives hereabouts up the river: Tim Flannery, who suggested that humans need to reintroduce the big cats into proximity to human settlements. This would enhance selection pressure and possibly raise the IQ and sense of responsibility of the average population. Similar outcomes perhaps from the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Perhaps teams of committed environmentalists have already been releasing strains of antibiotic resistant staph into local hospitals. Theory being biological control by getting rid of the sick people first. Getting struck down by a lion or a leopards seems more interesting than by a golden staph.

        There’s a few marsupial predators from Australia now extinct, that may have occupied similar predatory niches as the big cats. Thylacine being a relatively harmless example. But there were also marsupial lions etc. which might potentially be resurrected. Australia is already host to most of thee world’s deadliest snakes and spiders. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to augment these populations with breeding programs. No resurrection work even required. (And from last week’s personal experience a hand-sized non-venomous spider dropping onto one’s face while driving at high speed on a Sydney freeway is as potentially deadly as the most venomous species, though indirectly.)

        Going further back in time for resurrection candidates there’s possibly even better options. Velociraptor springs to mind. But, mundane as they are, bad driving, bad diet, monetary theory, and biological and nuclear weapons may yet prove to be the earth’s best hope.

        In reply to #10 by MAJORPAIN:

        In reply to #3 by Pete H:

        Then make space in the ecosystem by extincting whichever globally distributed species is ecologically dysfunctional…

        I think that would be humans, would it not?

  3. I wouldn’t start on something that could either swim off or fly away. You want to keep it in shooting range; although, I doubt any would be permitted out of their cage. The mammoth’s size isn’t an issue, have you not been to a zoo. Big money raiser, people would flock to see this. I didn’t waste my time on the Panda’s at the TO Zoo but I would go see the Mammoth. It’s natural that we would do it. Don’t get in the way of nature.

  4. passenger pigeons

    A great shame it was, used and abused by humans.

    The extinct carolina parakeet, aesthetically pleasing, could be considered. However, any plans to “bring it back” would be DOA. ‘Twould be the same problems all over again, in addition to current loss of habitat and severe weather.

    E2 – extinction, round two.

  5. As much as I’d like to see a real live mammoth, I question the wisdom of bringing back species that went extinct due to natural causes. I am however, in favor of bringing back animals that went extinct because of human meddling/bungling… except when it comes to crabs, lice or bedbugs… If those were to become extinct, nobody would miss them. Anybody trying to bring them back ought to be shot.

  6. While it would be fascinating and moving to see a living mammoth or thylacine, I’d like to see more focus on preserving our present ecosystem and existing wildlife. Rhinos and elephants are being slaughtered, lion populations are plummeting, and our grandchildren may only see tigers in zoos. Less glamorous species like frogs and bees are dying off all over the world; every year brings news of more extinctions, with as-yet unknown ecological consequences. The vast majority of these extinctions can be laid directly at the feet of the most predatory species on the planet – us.

    Here in my home state, our National Park system has a mandate to return its parks to their pristine, pre-European settlement states. That includes restoring wildlife that has been exterminated by humans, such as wolves. Thanks to the moratorium on wolf-killing and protection of the ESA, wolves are migrating back into the US from Canada and have established packs or been tracked as far south as northern California, Wyoming, southern Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. They have established themselves in Washington’s North Cascades, but, because of the urban centers of Puget Sound and the extensive agriculture areas in southern Washington, and the barrier of the heavily-traveled, industrialized Columbia River, they have not made it back to their ancient stronghold in the rain forests of the Olympic Mountains in the Olympic National Park. The deliberate reintroduction of wolves has been a major political and social battle because livestock owners and people with Little Red Riding Hood fears of wolves have blocked it repeatedly. I and many others would like to have the chance to experience even one single place the way it used to be before modern humans fucked it up. I’d like to hear the howling of wolves as I once did in Alaska, but it’s becoming less and less likely. Just this last year an entire pack of wolves was slaughtered in Eastern Washington because cattle ranchers claimed they were killing cows, and hunters claimed they were killing too many elk.

    • In reply to #9 by Sue Blue:

      While it would be fascinating and moving to see a living mammoth or thylacine, I’d like to see more focus on preserving our present ecosystem and existing wildlife. Rhinos and elephants are being slaughtered, lion populations are plummeting, and our grandchildren may only see tigers in zoos.

      As much as I think that current campaigns to preserve what’s currently not extinct should take priority, I don’t think species revival is best thought of as an alternative to conservation. It’s a brute fact that, at our current rate, many more species will go extinct (in the wild, at least) before legislation changes and a shifting zeitgeist can reverse the trend. In the short term, thinking of species revival is only going to result in them dying off again in the face of habitat destruction, poaching, and pollution.

      However, if we do get around to repairing the damage nationally and internationally, there’s a big risk that the missing species will leave the ecosystems unstable in spite of the turnaround. In the long run, ecological disasters might still occur simply because of the absence of these species. In such a scenario, species revival becomes an asset because it enables us to re-stabilize places like the Amazon, the Indonesian islands, and several other biological hotspots. In the long run, species revival might be key to the future success of the conservation movement, since it’d enable us to build on the campaign that prevents the destruction of other species. If environmentalism is on the increase, now would be as good a time as any to look into it.

      Of course, this applies only if species revival focuses on the ecological value of a species (say, insects and plants that form the bases of food chains) rather than on its marketability (say, mammoths). The tests outlined here seem to be a step in that direction, which given what I’ve said is to be encouraged. In any case, I don’t think we’ll yet get complacent enough to rely on it, if only because it’ll probably be expensive as hell to recreate an animal from scratch.

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