Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tasmanian Tigers/Devils Aren't Bad Consolation Prizes

More pure theory and hypothesis.  Again, I do not support or advocate the introduction of any nonnative species.

Reply to: A Different Way To Protect The Ghost Orchid


gnathaniel, thanks for sharing those two examples.  That Galapagos story was pretty crazy.  What was the takeaway?

  • change is constant
  • Goats are bad
  • Pirates are mostly bad but they can be unintentionally good
  • Don't keep all your tortoises on one island (hedge your bets)
  • A certain intern has a very interesting resume
  • Hybrid swarms can be used to recreate the parent species
  • A Hybrid finch might be less suspectible to brain sucking maggots (hedge your bets)
  • Future biodiversity depends on how well we play God

Is that right?  Am I missing any?

That was kind of grizzly about the goats.  I really hope that all that meat didn't go to waste.

Speaking of conservation/eradication...

The Big Kill (hat tip MT)

I knew about the Moas but I didn't realize that there also use to be a giant eagle that preyed on them... Haast's eagle.  I always feel ripped off when I learn about a modern extinction...especially when it's something as cool as a giant eagle.

People in the not-so-distant past stole many valuable treasures from us. But it's hard to judge them too harshly because we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them.  As it stands, most of us are really glad that we don't have to live in "those" times.

Prior to humans visiting New Zealand, the islands didn't have any mammals other than a few bats.  As a result, birds had the opportunity to adaptively radiate into the major empty niches.  The Moas functioned as deer and the eagles functioned as wolves.

This is relevant because herclivation is based on the premise that there's an abundance of unfilled arboreal niches.  For reasons previously discussed, I've argued that we should seriously consider filling them as quickly as possible.  But, if we had somehow applied my logic to prehistoric New Zealand and filled the empty niches with deer and wolves...then Moas and Haast's eagles would never have evolved.

This does give me pause...but, then again, Tasmanian Devils and Tigers are/were pretty cool as well.

If us humans weren't around, and barring any natural disaster, in a few million years or so Florida's epiphytic diversity would probably rival the epiphytic diversity of present day Costa Rica.  And Canada would have as many epiphytic orchids as Florida currently does.

Maybe future Florida would have had a giant species of Ghost Orchid that was pollinated by a moth the size of a hawk. How crazy cool would that have been?

The not-so-minor detail is that us humans, well, we are around. Maybe in the long long run most of us will rocket away and help terraform a swath of lifeless planets.  We'll stop cramping mother nature's style here on earth and she could get back to churning out Moas and giant eagles.  But who knows when or if we'll ever make it off this planet (it depends on how long it takes people to understand that progress depends on difference).

Because wild habitats have been drastically reduced in size and's a given that the future is going to have far less biodiversity than it would have had.  So if we want the future to have more, rather than less biodiversity, then I think we need to seriously consider trying to help maximize the speciation potential of any and all habitats.  This means filling empty niches with life...which, over time, will change and adapt to the different selective pressures of the new environments.  As I've argued before, places like Florida are a good place to start because there's an abundance of unoccupied arboreal niches.

We can imagine mother nature as a scientist in a laboratory churning out new species.  Here we are on this forum because we're big fans of the orchids that she's produced.  What's important to understand is that every output, whether it's a Ghost Orchid or a Haarst eagle, depends on inputs.  The two main inputs that mother nature needs for her outputs are wild habitats and genetic material.  If either input is reduced then her output will also be reduced.  Given that we've drastically reduced the amount of wild habitat that she has to work with, mother nature's productivity will drastically suffer...unless we offset the reduction of habitat material by giving her more genetic material to work with.

So the basic function looks something like this...

xSpace * yGenes = zSpecies  

x and y are the inputs and z is the output. We've slashed x which means we need to boost y in order to avoid ripping off future generations.  They won't get Moas and Haast's eagles but they'll get Tasmanian Tigers/Devils...which are pretty cool consolation prizes.  

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