Quote without (much) comment (amended to include a bit more commentary)

John Shuey jshuey at TNC.ORG
Thu Jan 3 09:47:30 EST 2002

So, I finally read this (the first time I attempted it, it seemed like just
so much drivel - which is actually a pretty good assessment).

Two themes jump out at me:

1 - Conservation Defeatism - This usually comes out of the museum crowd -
and it goes like this.  The world is so screwed up, that we are going to
lose almost all of our biodiversity.  So, rather than try and actually
conserve biodiversity, our resources (in the name of science) are best used
to go out and catalogue it now.  That way it doesn't really matter if the
last of the Atlantic Coastal Forest in Brazil is lost, because we already
knew what it supported.  If we want to see it we can look at pictures.

2 - My group is most important.  This argument goes like this - Because we
can't actually know everything - we need to focus on a few select groups
that will serve as model systems.  Coincidentally, the group I love (and
need more funding for) happens to be the best "model" out there.  I actually
agree with the first part of the statement - model systems are really
important in conservation implementation - you can't plan efforts around an
entire biota, but you can hope to conserve an entire biota by using model
systems to plan your effort.  As much as I love butterflies, I happen to
think that using them as tools to monitor ecological integrity and function
in the Neotropics is bogus (you see lots of model tools developed -  but
never see them validated because of the statistical variance in the data
generated - in contrast - you can [if you're a good botanist] statistically
sample woody plants in a rain forest in a couple of weeks - lianas included
[if you're a great botanist]).

These themes have been kicking around for years and I have certainly
simplified the finer points for the purposes of my own sarcastic rhetoric.
Non-the-less, it is odd to hear such a defeatist theme coming from Ehrlich,
who once championed conservation action.

Contrast this with another well know Lepidopterist, Dan Janzen, who is
likewise panicked about the biodiversity crises. Janzen is similar in the
view that we need to know what actually lives at various sites - but not
because we will lose knowledge unless we push forward - but because we need
to know to know about EVERYTHING that occurs at the site in order to
adequately protect it.  (I have problems with the everything part of this,
but the goal is laudable).  But the big difference is in "action".  Janzen
spends much of his life's energy studying and PROTECTING one site - he is
actually taking action to conserve the Area de Conservation Guanacaste.  He
has raised millions of dollars to add to the area, is working on dry forest
restoration, and most importantly has developed real conservation tools that
others are using (we have  used some concepts Janzen developed relative to
carbon sequestration throughout Latin American and even Indiana to add
millions of acres to conservation areas [ok so the total is more like a
thousand acres in Indiana - but these are expensive carbon credits here]).
If he and the Costa Rica government and the local communities involved are
successful , an ecosystem "swath" from the Pacific Ocean through dry forest,
rainforest, and two isolated cloud forests will be conserved at a scale that
should protect almost "everything".  In support of this, Janzen has probably
created the "best know lepiopteran fauna" in the Neotropics (see the latest
issue of the Lep Soc Journal for an overview of 2,192 reared Pyrrhopygine
skippers from Guanacaste - representing just 15 species - a tiny sampling of
his rearing effort).

So, with apologies to both Ehrlich and Janzen for my gross simplification of
their views, I suggest that actions speak louder than words.  You can easily
be dismissive of the Ehrlich rhetoric - or mine for that matter.

persona John

John A. Shuey. Ph.D.
Director of Conservation Science
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy
1505 N Delaware Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-leps-l at lists.yale.edu [mailto:owner-leps-l at lists.yale.edu]On
> Behalf Of Kondla, Norbert FOR:EX
> Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2002 11:45 AM
> To: 'drdn at mail.utexas.edu'; leps-l at lists.yale.edu
> Subject: RE: Quote without (much) comment
> Me too. I do not find anything useful in the quoted statements by Paul
> Ehrlich. Of course he has the right to hold and express opinions
> that differ
> from others :-) Maybe too much time has been wasted on model systems and
> other arcane matters that real decision makers in society are not able to
> use in matters of conservation :-) Named entities that are really
> endangered
> are, on the other hand, something that people find useful in
> making land use
> and resource management decisions.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Chris J. Durden [mailto:drdn at mail.utexas.edu]
> Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2002 6:31 AM
> To: leps-l at lists.yale.edu
> Subject: Re: Quote without (much) comment
> Yes Ken, I read it too. I do not like it. I think this viewpoint is
> counterproductive. I think it is a result of our recent (30+year) turning
> of science into a business rather than an art. It is sad to see
> these ideas
> coming from a respected scientist.
>     For a long time I have maintained that if the lawyers can index such
> ephemera as our laws and the court proceedings relevant to them,
> surely the
> scientists can index such treasures as our species and, yes, subspecies,
> and the habitats and communities relevant to them.
> ................Chris Durden
> At 02:14 AM 1/2/2002 -0900, you wrote:
> >         Paul Ehrlich's name has come up a couple of times recently on
> >Leps-L. I thought the list might be interested in three quotes from the
> >Presidential Address he gave last year to the Association for Tropical
> >Lepidoptera.
> >
> >         For those who might not know the approach to butterfly studies
> >he's been advocating for the last 30 years and more--he recommends that
> >people should carry out intensive work on taxonomically limited groups
> >(which he calls 'model systems') rather than diluting their efforts by
> >taking a "non-scientific 'shotgun' approach to nature".
> >
> >         Here are the three quotes I found interesting:
> >
> >         "Too much effort has been expended on the useless taxonomic des-
> >cription of subspecies......, something with which I wasted some
> of my own
> >time in my youth. In the United States, subspecies are important
> tools for
> >preserving biodiversity, because of the structure of the nation's laws
> >protecting endeangered organisms, but nobody should be deluded
> into think-
> >ing the naming of subspecies is of scientific significance."
> >
> >         "It is quite clear that the lesser interest in, and much greater
> >diversity of moths gives them very few of the advantages that butterflies
> >enjoy as a model group. There is little scientific reason to do further
> >work on them."
> >
> >         "I think that it would be wonderful if _Homo sapiens_ took the
> >necessary actions to preserve present day biodiversity for a millennium
> >or so, to permit it to be reasonably completely described. Or, humanity
> >might allocate enough resources to get a rough describing/cataloguing
> >largely done in a few decades, especially since the technical ability to
> >do so is increasingly in hand. That would be fine if it did not compete
> >with the funding of the much more important work on model systems."
> >
> >         These quotes have been lifted out of context. Anyone
> who wants to
> >check context should find a copy of the ATL 'Lepidoptera News', June
> >2001 #2.
> >
> >                                                 Ken Philip
> >fnkwp at uaf.edu
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