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Does it really matter?

Discussion of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how these properties are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment

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Postby Smig » Thu Mar 18, 2010 5:28 pm

There can be an objective value to the existence of a species if its an important species in its ecosystem. The interactions between each species and their importance is usually such a complex issue that the removal of one may have unpredictable consequences. If the rate of extinctions today is accelerating alarmingly due to human intervention, we might not understand the damage that an extinction caused to a whole ecosystem before its gone for a long time so we should be very prudent.

If we're talking about species that are near extinction by more natural means, there's probably not so much danger in that.

Now about subjective value, there is plenty. How much would you pay to see a live dinosaur? How much would future generations pay to see a live panda when they hear tales of this adorable creature? If a species gets extinct, its gone forever, having them alive is important for many people so does it really matter (if it doesn't for the ecosystem)? It's subjective, it depends on who you're talking to.
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Postby JackBean » Thu Mar 18, 2010 5:37 pm

what's the difference whether some animal extincts due to "natural" reasons or due to human?
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Postby Smig » Thu Mar 18, 2010 5:43 pm

The distinction I was thinking is for example, the sudden reduction of an habitat for economic purposes would be a human reason. Natural reasons would be changes in climate or biotic factors, which are usually gradual. I think that sudden "natural" changes are probably very rare.
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Postby JackBean » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:33 pm

are they? As you mentioned the biotic factors, the bat's populations in US are currently decimated by virus of white bat nose (or something like that), so if they all extincted, that would be fine? But if is human involved, we must stop our expansion and save every little nothing?
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Postby Smig » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:59 pm

I don't know. I said that there was probably not much danger to an ecosystem as a whole if the extinctions were natural because they're usual a gradual process. Pointing an example of non-gradual natural extinction wouldn't disprove that its usually a gradual process. However, if I'm wrong, and I admit I haven't looked up much info about it, then no, it wouldn't be fine so there's no inconsistency there, the focus was the health of the ecosystem and not in some distinction about the cause of the extinction. The problem though is that, even in the cases of sudden natural extinctions, they can't oscillate much further than the rate of especiation in the long run while the rate of extinctions due to economic growth is orders of magnitude higher in quantity.

Do we understand all these ecosystems so well, that we're ready to say that it doesn't matter?
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Postby JackBean » Fri Mar 19, 2010 9:55 am

I don't say, that extinction of anything is good, I'm just saying, that
1) for the planet and ecosystem in global it doesn't really matter, whether something extincts
2) there's no difference, whether anything extincts due to humans or due to anything else
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Postby Smig » Fri Mar 19, 2010 3:15 pm

I don't agree with neither premise, but it may depend on what you mean by them. About the 2nd point, even if there were no qualitative difference between each cause of an extinction there is surely a quantitative difference. The quantity of extinctions caused by mankind's desire to make money is not even comparable to natural ones, unless you're thinking on mass extinctions that occurred in the past... sure, the ecosystems recovered quickly, but by quickly I mean in just a few million years. Recovery times, when applied to ecosystems, are usually not very reasonable for mankind's timescale.

About the 1st point, sure, for the earth it doesn't matter, if by that you mean only for the existence of the planet and life in general. If you're thinking on human being's future here then I don't see why it would not matter. Certain keystone species are so much more important than they look at first sight to promote a stable ecosystem, the whole system would change drastically if one was to disappear and I'd argue that we don't know the ecosystems that we're changing in enough detail to say that extinctions don't matter. They clearly do in some cases! In any case, an extinction cannot be reversed so, in the very least, actions that result in extinctions should be handled with great care. Promptly saying that it doesn't matter just seems irresponsible to me, even if you don't think ALL species should be preserved (which would be impossible anyway).
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Re: Does it really matter?

Postby skeptic » Tue Mar 23, 2010 1:00 am

In ecological terms, the extinction of a very rare plant or animal does not matter a damn.

In conservation terms, to many people, it may matter enormously. This is because humans react very strongly and very emotionally to this sort of thing. However, it will only be some people who care. I have met a person who has dedicated his life to saving some threatened native languages, when the last native speakers of those tongues are dying out. Frankly, I cannot see his work as having any importance at all, since the loss of those languages will not even be noticed by 99.999% of our species. You can say the same about the loss of rare species of plant or animal. We ascribe importance to their loss because of our emotions. This is neither right nor wrong, but very human.

We also have a very human and emotional response according to the size and shape of said species. People would be devastated by the loss of the giant panda, but not worry in the least about the extinction of the grey peat weevil of Vanuatu.

My point is that such losses are of importance in terms of human emotions. In terms of global ecology, they are totally unimportant.

We often forget that life on Earth today is based on less that 1% of all the species that ever lived. More than 99% are extinct, and no-one and nothing mourns the loss, except a few academics.
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Postby i_r_e_d » Tue Mar 23, 2010 3:03 pm

Well said mister skeptic...
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Postby mith » Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:50 am

you're also interested in preserving them if they have anti-cancer or anti microbial chemistry
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
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Postby Smig » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:15 pm

Another value is in research.

For example, what if we can know more about the evolution of the great ape's brains by studying creatures on other branches that also developed big brains, like dolphins. If we were unable to study living dolphins we could potentially lose knowledge about our own species.

This is sort of an extreme example but the point is that, when a species goes extinct, you might be losing precious knowledge that we could gather otherwise, regardless of any ecological considerations.
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Postby JackBean » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:24 pm

I don't say, that no. Skeptic got my point exactly (and probably wrote it better than me:)
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