Environment Back to life: resurrecting extinct species might come at terrible cost

Back to life: resurrecting extinct species might come at terrible cost

Bringing back extinct species could lead to a loss of biodiversity, rather than gain, according to work featuring University of Queensland researchers.

Although the technology for de-extinction is still some way off, the research found that careful thought would be required about what species to reintroduce, and where.

UQ scientist Professor Hugh Possingham said the research suggested that it would be difficult to cover the costs of bringing a species back and continue to help existing species, given governments’ limited conservation budgets.

“If the risk of failure and the costs associated with establishing viable populations could also be calculated, estimates of potential net losses or missed opportunities would probably be considerably higher,” Professor Possingham said.

“De-extinction could be useful for inspiring new science and could be beneficial for conservation if we ensure it doesn’t reduce existing conservation resources.

“However, in general it is best if we focus on the many species that need our help now.”

The study, led by Dr Joseph Bennett, formerly of the ARC Centre for Environmental Decisions at UQ and now of Carleton University, Canada, analysed the number of species governments in New Zealand and New South Wales could afford to conserve.

The Lord Howe pigeon, eastern bettong, bush moa and Waitomo frog were among the extinct species included in calculations.

The researchers found reintroducing some recently extinct species to their old habitats might improve biodiversity locally, but government-funded conservation for 11 focal extinct species in New Zealand would sacrifice conservation for nearly three times as many (31) existing species.

External funding for conservation of the five focal extinct NSW species could instead be used to conserve more than eight times as many (42) existing species.

“Given the considerable potential for missed opportunity, and risks inherent in assuming a resurrected species would fulfil its role as an ecosystem engineer or flagship species, it is unlikely that de-extinction could be justified on grounds of biodiversity conservation,” Professor Possingham said.

Read more about the de-extinction study here. Story credit: University of Queensland newsroom.

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