Nov 28, 2022

The tough decision of which species to save from extinction Transcript

The tough decision of which species to save from extinction Transcript
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Ecologist and author Rebecca Nesbit joins Geoff Bennett to discuss the ethics and decision-making process behind figuring out which species to save. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

This week, a major United Nations Wildlife Conference enacted significant protections to numerous vulnerable species targeted by poachers. Earlier, a UN report said there are roughly 1 million species around the world facing extinction. With so much wildlife in need and resources limited, difficult choices have to be made. Jeff Bennett spoke with Rebecca Nesbit, an ecologist and author of Tickets for the Ark: From Wasps to Wales, How Do We Choose What to Save?

Jeff Bennett (00:32):

To start, give us a sense of some of the less popular species that are integral to an ecosystem, but that aren’t getting the funding and the resources and the research that you think they deserve.

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit (00:45):

There’s all sorts of species that either we ignore or even we hate. I think of wasps, common yellow jackets, for example, that lots of people really despise, but they’re playing important roles such as they help with pest control. We’ve got lots of caterpillars, for example, that eat our crops, and it’s various species of wasps that will control those caterpillars. So we are getting really direct benefits from these species that we actively dislike.

Jeff Bennett (01:14):

So what then is an ethical way to make a decision about which species to save?

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit (01:19):

It’s a really complex decision that we need to make each time, and sometimes we’re talking about extinctions, sometimes we’re just talking about what’s happening in a local area. So we’re not necessarily going to lose a species to extinction, but we are just going to ignore it and let the populations decline. The kind of ways we can think about are, well, what does that species do? We could think about the species’ role in the wider ecosystem. For example, I’m going to think of an ecosystem that stores a lot of carbon. We all know what problems we’re facing with the climate and how important it is to store carbon, so if we were to think of wanting to use an area for forest to have lots of trees to store the carbon, then we could be taking that reasoning that we want to prioritize species that will create an ecosystem that stores carbon, but that’s just one possible way.

And another way we could take this question is well, who decides? At the moment, a lot of conservation has been decided by a very small number of people. Whereas we could bring far more people into this debate because we have, for example, around the world, Indigenous societies relying on nature, protecting nature and not having their voices listened to. So part of how do we decide is who do we bring into that conversation?

Jeff Bennett (02:46):

Consider the panda, for instance. It’s a species that gets a lot of attention, a lot of funding. A few months ago I spoke with Melissa Songer, who works at the National Zoo here in Washington, DC about the overall conservation effort. Here’s what she had to say.

The panda conservation effort in many ways is helpful to other conservation efforts, is it not?

Melissa Songer (03:08):

Absolutely good. The research and the things that we learn about their ecology and their ecosystems benefits all the species they’re sharing the space with. So when we work to conserve a large mammal like the giant panda, we’re also conserving habitat for a range of species. The new Giant Panda National Park, it’s estimated that some 4,000 species, known species, so even more than that will be protected under that. That’s one of the reasons why we call it an umbrella species.

Jeff Bennett (03:38):

So what do you make of that umbrella species phenomenon? The sense that when you work to preserve habitats for animals like pandas, there are other species that benefit?

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit (03:49):

I think that’s absolutely true. And from saving a species like the panda, we’re protecting this forest, which is not just amazing for all the other species, but for all the things that a forest does for us, whether that is helping with flood control, with climate regulation, perhaps it’s providing some goods for local people living there. This forest is amazing for so many reasons, and sometimes it takes a species like a panda to get us all behind that effort to save that forest. And I think the panda is so important as an icon because the panda has shown us how successful conservation can be that the conservation’s really turned around its fortunes and seeing those success stories, it’s just a reminder of how it valuable and successful conservation can be.

Jeff Bennett (04:41):

So as we wrap up this conversation, what are some best practices based on your research to preserve global biodiversity?

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit (04:48):

There’s all sorts of things that need to go into protecting wildlife, and this is everything from thinking about how we live our lives, our diets, for example, do we waste lots of food because that land was used to grow that food, and if we throw it in that bin, that is land that could have been used for wildlife that is now wasted. Bringing more people into conversations, and all of us taking part in conversations about how to save wildlife, how to prioritize is very important. And thinking of an environmental justice position when talking about how to make those decisions.

Jeff Bennett (05:25):

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit is an ecologist and author of the book, Tickets for the Ark: From Wasps to Wales, How Do We Choose What to Save? Thanks so much for your time and for your insights.

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit (05:35):

Thank you.

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