Thursday, December 16, 2010


Increasing Diversity

About 16 years ago, Natural History magazine published nice drawings of some of the latest animals to go extinct. They were mainly merely local races of birds which had the bad fortune to have very small ranges within rapidly growing urban sprawls. Although some of the more recent extinctions were tragedies of greed--the Great Auk, the Labrador Duck, Steller's Sea Cow, et al., others, like the Carolina Parakeet and Passenger Pigeon, went extinct because we couldn't have agriculture as we know it and have them too. Many, like the Dodo, and almost all the birds on Guam recently, were unfortunate accidents. And some, like the Golden Toads and other frogs, were due to a Chytrid fungus (probably spread by the very scientists studying the amphibians). Put that in your irony pipe and smoke it. (The good news is that many of the frogs have developed resistance to the fungus and are on the rebound). And don't get me started on the magafauna of the Americas, Madagascar, New Zealand and Australia by the often praised for living in harmony with nature aborigines.

My point is that we have lost species, but we are discovering new forms of life here on Earth, and all the time. Newly discovered species in the last decade number 1,200 along the Amazon, 1,000 along the Mekong river, and 200 in Eastern Papua New Guinea Like this somewhat creepy tube nosed fruit bat which is so newly discovered that it doesn't even have a name yet, beyond the informal Yoda bat.

There is no reason to panic about diminishing diversity and a new broad based extinction. We have not yet established the base line with which to judge the rate of extinction.


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