Australia May Have To Pick And Choose Which Species To Save From Extinction
December 26, 2012

Australia May Have To Pick And Choose Which Species To Save From Extinction

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In an impassioned plea to raise awareness and funding for species conservation, two Australian scientists argue that society may have to prioritize endangered species and possibly allow some of them to become extinct because of a lack of funding for conservation efforts.

University of Melbourne professor Michael McCarthy and Hugh Possingham of University of Queensland and Australia´s Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decision (CEED) have proposed the unpleasant possibility of ℠conservation triage´ — essentially determining which Australian wildlife will survive and which will become extinct, in the newest edition of the CEED journal Decision Point.

“At current levels of funding, it is not possible to save all threatened species in Australia from extinction. You might not like that (we definitely don´t) but it is a fact of life,” the professors wrote. “Conservation triage involves spending the limited funding most efficiently.”

The concept of triage has been around since World War I, when medical personnel devised a system to determine how to distribute limited resources amongst their patients.

McCarthy and Possingham argue that society must determine how to prioritize conservation funds, since those funds come primarily from the public at-large. They warn that these conversations should be informed by species´ impact on the larger ecosystem, despite the fact that some ℠keystone´ species might not be the most photogenic.

“Without an informed discussion, we might find that only the cutest species are given the highest priority, while some species that are vitally important for ecosystem function could be neglected if they are less charismatic,” the authors wrote.

They also advised that once an animal is selected for conservation–strategies to save that species must also be determined. A robust cost-benefit analysis might inform the methods used to boost a particular population, they said.

“For example, we might ask how best to distribute funding between breeding orange bellied parrots in captivity versus restoring saltmarsh vegetation in their wintering range. The latter strategy would influence a community of species, but might have less influence on orange-bellied parrots than the former,” the scientists explained.

The two professors concluded their report by noting that funding conservation efforts for some species and not others can be avoided if more funding were put into place, especially in their native Australia.

“Our research suggests that tripling the resources allocated to Australia´s threatened bird species could reduce the number of extinctions over the next 80 years to almost zero, and reduce the number of threatened species by about 15 percent,” they wrote.

To make their argument for additional funds, the scientists compared the impact of money spent on conservation versus how it might be spent in other areas in Australia´s government.

“To make this trade-off of costs even more explicit, consider the following,” they wrote. “If Australia didn´t fly one of its FA18 fighter bombers for six months per year then we would save enough money to prevent the extinction of all of Australia´s bird species over the next 80 years. We would also have a good chance of recovering 15% of them well enough to remove them from the threatened species list.”