February 11, 2009

Study: Little joy in finding new species

A U.S. scientist who co-authored an analysis of the 408 new mammalian species discovered since 1993 says he finds little cause for joy in the discoveries.

Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University said that in the era of global warming, when many scientists say we are experiencing a human-caused mass extinction to rival the one that killed the dinosaurs, one might think discovery of new species would be cause for joy. Not entirely so, said Ehrlich.

What this paper really talks about is how little we actually know about our natural capital and how little we know about the services that flow from it, he said. "I think what most people miss is that the human economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the economy of nature, which supplies us from our natural capital a steady flow of income that we can't do without.

And that income is in the form of what are called 'ecosystem services'-keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, supplying fresh water, preventing floods, protecting our crops from pests and pollinating many of them, recycling the nutrients that are essential to agriculture and forestry, and on and on.

Ehrlich conducted the analysis with Professor Gerardo Ceballos of the National University of Mexico. Their work is reported in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.