Inside the White House with D.C.'s most wired reporter. Sign up for Mike Allen's Axios AM.

Stories
Expert Voices

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

More stories loading.