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Con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity should stop ignor­ing abun­dant wildlife, says WCS

pub­lished 19 April 2013 | mod­i­fied 05 April 2014

wolves hunting yellowstoneA provoca­tive new paper writ­ten by cur­rent and recent Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) sci­en­tists takes the inter­na­tional wildlife con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity to task for ignor­ing abun­dant wildlife and their impor­tance to ecosys­tems and humans world­wide.

The paper, “Abun­dance as a Con­ser­va­tion Value,” writ­ten by long­time WCS sci­en­tist Kent Red­ford, now head of Arch­i­pel­ago Con­sult­ing; WCS Senior Sci­en­tist Joel Berger, John J. Craig­head Chair of Wildlife Biol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Mon­tana; and WCS Coor­di­na­tor of Bird Con­ser­va­tion, Steve Zack, appears in the April issue of the inter­na­tional jour­nal of con­ser­va­tion, Oryx.

Many once abun­dant species are cur­rently in decline, yet con­ser­va­tion­ists and insti­tu­tions often take notice and action only when they become rare
Kent Red­ford, lead author, Arch­i­pel­ago Con­sult­ing »

It is like prac­tic­ing med­i­cine only in the emer­gency room and won­der­ing why patients only increase in num­ber.”

The con­se­quence of not address­ing and con­serv­ing abun­dance in wildlife pop­u­la­tions put at risk the ecosys­tem ser­vices that abun­dant, not merely present, species pro­vide, the authors stress. These include for­est seed dis­per­sal, nutri­ent move­ment from the marine to the ter­res­trial by salmon and other anadro­mous fishes, and the reg­u­la­tory role that preda­tors like wolves play with elk and other species. Humans in turn rely on such ser­vices deliv­ered by abun­dance in nature, includ­ing eco-​tourism fuelled by expe­ri­enc­ing wildlife abun­dance as viewed in the Serengeti, Yel­low­stone, and in the Arc­tic National Wildlife Refuge.

The authors say
there are four major rea­sons for con­ser­va­tion­ists to care about the phe­nom­e­non of abun­dance:

First, it is eas­ier in cost and man­age­ment effort to main­tain abun­dance in wildlife pop­u­la­tions than it is to keep once abun­dant and now rare species from extinction.
Sec­ond, abun­dant species pro­vide many vital ecosys­tem ser­vices on which nature and humans rely includ­ing water fil­tra­tion by oys­ters, nutri­ent trans­port by salmon and river her­ring, and nutri­ent cycling by migrat­ing wildebeest.
Third, abun­dance main­tains other species — includ­ing humans — and ecosys­tems. Exam­ples include ele­phants as seed dis­persers, bees as pol­li­na­tors, and fish as sources of human food.
Lastly, wildlife in abun­dance, also called spec­ta­cles, helps inspire con­ser­va­tion­ists and their sup­port­ers and builds con­nec­tions with the nat­ural world.

The saiga ante­lope in cen­tral Asia has plum­meted from more than a mil­lion ani­mals to only tens of thou­sands in recent years,” says Berger of one of the many ungu­lates he has stud­ied through­out his con­ser­va­tion career. “If the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity had com­mit­ted to main­tain this species abun­dance rather than belat­edly act­ing on avert­ing its extinc­tion, then this Asian icon would be con­served, and at much less cost.”

“Abun­dance is the dra­matic fea­ture of Arc­tic wildlife, par­tic­u­larly true in the world­wide aggre­ga­tion of migra­tory birds that breed in coastal plain wet­lands dur­ing the short sum­mer,” says Zack of his recent stud­ies and con­ser­va­tion efforts in Arc­tic Alaska. “Just focus­ing on the con­ser­va­tion of the cur­rently few species war­rant­ing sta­tus as endan­gered would result in miss­ing the essence and nature of this dra­matic place”.

The authors note that it is encour­ag­ing that the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) is now devel­op­ing a “Green List” for species, a process that empha­sises recov­ery and per­haps empha­sis on return­ing species to abun­dance, and thus mov­ing away from the sole empha­sis on Red Lists of species that fix­ate on rar­ity and extinc­tion.

(Source: WCS press release, 19.04.2013)

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