Monday, November 11, 2013

Exploring the intersection of conservation, ecology and human well-being

I've seen a number of articles recently that explore in different way the intersection of environment and ecology, conservation and human societies. In particular, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (the free ESA journal you are gifted as a member) has dedicated an entire issue to the question of climate impacts on humans and ecosystems, and the papers cover important topics relating to changing climate and its effects on biodiversity, ecosystem integrity and human societies. Economic predictions suggest costs from fires, drought, and rising sea levels: whether protecting ecosystems will preserve their function and so mediate these costs to humans and other organisms is explored in depth. Of course, scholarly papers can be impersonal, but another article about the struggles of Inuit in the north to adapt (or not) to changing ecosystems provides a smaller, more human look at climate, development, and cultural change. Another study predicts that for some cultures, climate change (and the resulting difficulties growing food, maintaining livelihoods, obtaining water and human health risks) may be too much for them to withstand.

Finally, a long-form story by Paul Voosen in The Chronicle of Higher Education asks "Who is conservation for?". While not a novel question, through interviews with Gretchen Daily and Michael Soule, Voosen does a thorough job of illuminating conservation biology in the context of real-world limitations and realities, historical precedents, ongoing tensions between new and old approaches to conservation, and economic development. In the end it asks what motivates conservation: do we conserve purely for the sake of biodiversity alone, for economic and functional benefits, for aesthetic reasons, for charismatic and at-risk species? As Voosen subtly hints in the article, if leading conservation biologists can't agree on the answer, will it ever be possible to be effective?

Slightly unrelated, but there is a great short film online about the life of Alfred Russel Wallace, the less celebrated co-discoverer of natural selection.

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