Moving Species To Protect Their Viability

The endangered western swamp turtle, which scientists have reintroduced into its native habitat in Australia. AUSCAPE/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360 for this:

Amid Climate Pressures, a Call for a Plan to Move Endangered Species

The conservation community has fiercely debated whether to help species move as climate change and habitat loss threaten more extinctions. Now, scientists are calling on an upcoming international conference to set guidelines for this complex – and potentially risky – challenge.

Conservationists, ecologist Mark Schwartz wrote nearly three decades ago, faced a looming conundrum: Many species would likely be unable to keep up with the projected pace of climate change and could face extinction as a result. This didn’t pose “an insurmountable conservation problem,” he wrote — people could help species reach places with suitable physical and biological conditions. They might carry endangered animals to habitats cut off by mountains, rivers, or human barriers, for example, or plant endangered trees or shrubs higher up mountain slopes or farther north.

In one sense, these would be ordinary actions. People had been moving species around the world for thousands of years, as farmers and horticulturalists, and out of simple curiosity. But long experience had given conservationists reason to be cautious about taking such actions themselves, Schwartz wrote. The salvation of one species could mean the destruction of another.

Three decades later, people are still arguing over whether the risk of moving species to more favorable conditions outweighs the risk of inaction. This debate has spawned hundreds of scientific papers, media reports, and even side debates, including over what to call the novel conservation practice (which, in this article, will be referred to as “assisted colonization”). It is a debate fueled less by differences of fact and more by differences of philosophy.

In a paper published last month in Science, a group of researchers offered one potential route around this impasse. They propose that at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in Kunming, China this October, the signatories agree upon a set of guidelines on assisted colonization which people around the world could use to consistently and explicitly weigh the risks involved in potential assisted colonization projects. While this risk-assessment framework is so far hypothetical, a number of other organizations and governments have published reports and policy documents on assisted colonization in recent years — a suggestion that the controversial conservation technique may finally be descending from the lofty realm of theory into the firmer one of practice…

Read the whole article here.

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