Jun 22, 2017

Don't forget an extinct creature's ecology

Our Expert Voices conversation on de-extinction.

Without ecology, the genetic resurrection of extinct species could be little more than an interesting spectacle. Every organism plays a part in maintaining ecosystems (e.g. seed dispersal, predation), and the loss of species can alter ecosystem function.

Three guidelines to maximize the benefit of de-extinction:

  1. Target ecologically unique species: Energy is better spent attempting to bring back species that held unique positions in their ecosystem, rather than species whose roles were similar to other species. Example: the Christmas Island pipistrelle, which was the only insectivorous bat on its island.
  2. Focus on recent extinctions: The more recent the better. Ecosystems can change drastically over time, making function difficult to recover. The woolly mammoth, a proposed candidate for de-extinction, likely has been extinct too long to be placed back into current ecosystems.
  3. Ensure recovery of meaningful abundance: Without enough individuals in an ecosystem, a species won't have much impact. Barriers to restoring abundance include climate, disease, policy, and human-animal conflict. The conflicts caused by massive passenger pigeon flocks could be a barrier to restoration of this species.

Bottom line: Ultimately, de-extinction should aim to restore lost ecological function by re-creating species' ecology as well as biology.

Other voices in the conversation: Joseph Bennett, biologist, Carleton University: Keep animals from going extinct in the first place Ben J. Novak, biologist, The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback: De-extinction is like any other conservation program Alejandro Camacho, legal scholar, University of California, Irvine: Wildlife laws aren't ready for the return of extinct species John Hawks, paleoanthropologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Bringing back Neanderthals

Go deeper

Tech can't remember what to do in a down market

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Wall Street's two-day-old coronavirus crash is a wakeup alarm for Silicon Valley.

The big picture: Tech has been booming for so long the industry barely remembers what a down market feels like — and most companies are ill-prepared for one.

Brace yourself for a coronavirus outbreak

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Public-health officials’ warnings about the coronavirus are sounding increasingly urgent, with one top CDC official asking the public yesterday "to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad."

Reality check: Other administration officials, including President Trump himself, were more subdued in their assessments. But underneath those tonal differences, the reality of the coronavirus is the same: It spreads quickly, and has already spread to many countries, making it likely to start spreading here, too.

Exclusive: Pro-Trump group plans post-Super Tuesday blitz on Democrats

Democratic presidential hopefuls take the debate stage in South Carolina. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action is preparing to unleash a series of targeted, swing-state attacks on the Democrats most likely to face President Trump after Super Tuesday, people familiar with the group's plans tell me in an exclusive preview of its strategy.

The state of play: The group has been tracking favorable/unfavorable ratings in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania for 2020 candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg — under the theory that if Trump wins each of these six states he would win re-election.