Monday, June 18, 2007

The other reason why Polar Bears are 100% safe from extinction

Like elephants, tigers, whales, koalas etc., selected large mammals have such an importance in human's consciousness, that an unfathomly high priority ends up being placed on salvaging at least the genetic pool of these animals in captivity, if not special "reserves", where their natural habitat is preserved or they are protected from competing wildlife and human encroachment.

This is with a background of a possible large scale extinction in the chunk of climate specific/sensitive species which is not very visible to the human consciousness. Through climate change, the overall number of organisms shouldn't change that much in any particular class, but opportunistic species will win out over the highly specialised in any particular category.

4 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

The value to conservation of these big, iconic animals is that they need a lot of room, and therfore can be leveraged into establishing *large* reserves that will capture plenty of habitat for all the smaller things that wouldn't be able to attract conservationy enthusiasm on their own. Huzzah for Polar Bears! :)

Marco said...

That is good in theory, but in practice, there are factors that neutralise that positive. Tigers, for instance are more numerous in the US in private zoos (or exotic pets if you like) than in their native habitat. Tigers are a low priority precisely where they are most numerous in the wild. Even large elephant reserves have suffered environmental degredation due to overpopulation of elephants within the reserve. Natural habitats for polar bears will depend on the extent of sea-ice there ends up being. I like the "Steve Irwin" concept of setting aside any and all habitats we can afford. All will have species worth conserving.

Dr. Clam said...

Yeah, but you need to motivate the voters (or the Holy Roman Emperor) to set those reserves aside, and it is the big iconic animals that let you do that. My impression was that 'Project Tiger' in India had been a success in terms of setting aside room for *all* species under the banner of preserving tiger habitat. True, more tigers are kept in private zoos by mysterious cyborg supercriminals than there are in the wild, but I can't see this making a dint on the emotional appeal of preserving room for wild tigers.

On a tangent, I wonder about polar bears and RNA... maybe there were no sea ice refugia in the last interglacial, but at some previous glacial period a population of brown bears developed an adaptation allowing them to adopt the polar bear phenotype under appropriate environmental cues- when the sea-ice went away, they could revert to a normal phenotype. Maybe the separation between polar bears and brown bears only the seasonal variation in arctic animal coloration writ large...

Marco said...

Yes, I was thinking along the same lines. Interbreeding with grizzlies combined with warmth might "switch off" highly specialised genes. These would remain in the gene pool until a future ice age switched them back on.