Spending limited resources on de-extinction could lead to net biodiversity loss

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0053 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0053
  • Download Citation
Published online:


There is contentious debate surrounding the merits of de-extinction as a biodiversity conservation tool. Here, we use extant analogues to predict conservation actions for potential de-extinction candidate species from New Zealand and the Australian state of New South Wales, and use a prioritization protocol to predict the impacts of reintroducing and maintaining populations of these species on conservation of extant threatened species. Even using the optimistic assumptions that resurrection of species is externally sponsored, and that actions for resurrected species can share costs with extant analogue species, public funding for conservation of resurrected species would lead to fewer extant species that could be conserved, suggesting net biodiversity loss. If full costs of establishment and maintenance for resurrected species populations were publicly funded, there could be substantial sacrifices in extant species conservation. If conservation of resurrected species populations could be fully externally sponsored, there could be benefits to extant threatened species. However, such benefits would be outweighed by opportunity costs, assuming such discretionary money could directly fund conservation of extant species. Potential sacrifices in conservation of extant species should be a crucial consideration in deciding whether to invest in de-extinction or focus our efforts on extant species.

  • Subscribe to Nature Ecology & Evolution for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    et al. First birth of an animal from an extinct subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) by cloning. Theriogenology 71, 1026–1034 (2009).

  2. 2.

    Stem-cell plan aims to bring rhino back from brink of extinction. Nature 533, 20–21 (2016).

  3. 3.

    Extinction need not be forever. Nature 492, 9 (2012).

  4. 4.

    & What if extinction is not forever? Science 340, 32–33 (2013).

  5. 5.

    The ethics of de-extinction. NanoEthics 8, 165–178 (2014).

  6. 6.

    Mammoth 2.0: Will genome engineering resurrect extinct species? Genome Biol. 16, 228 (2015).

  7. 7.

    , & Reintroducing resurrected species: selecting DeExtinction candidates. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29, 140–147 (2014).

  8. 8.

    From dinosaurs to dodos: Who could and should we de-extinct? Front. Biogeog. 6, 20–24 (2014).

  9. 9.

    et al. Assessing the benefits and risks of translocations in changing environments: a genetic perspective. Evol. Appl. 4, 709–725 (2011).

  10. 10.

    , , & US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 5081–5086 (2015).

  11. 11.

    et al. De-extinction potential under climate change: extensive mismatch between historic and future habitat suitability for three candidate birds. Biol. Cons. 197, 164–170 (2016).

  12. 12.

    IUCN/SSC Guiding Principles on Creating Proxies of Extinct Species for Conservation Benefit: Version 1.0 (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2016).

  13. 13.

    Going the way of the dodo: de-extinction, dualisms, and reframing conservation. Wash. Univ. Law Rev. 92, 849–906 (2015).

  14. 14.

    Pathways to de-extinction: How close can we get to resurrection of an extinct species? Funct. Ecol. (2016).

  15. 15.

    et al. Balancing phylogenetic diversity and species numbers in conservation prioritization, using a case study of threatened species in New Zealand. Biol. Cons. 174, 47–54 (2014).

  16. 16.

    et al. Effect of risk aversion on prioritizing conservation projects. Cons. Biol. 29, 513–524 (2015).

  17. 17.

    More Plants and Animals to be Saved from Extinction: Saving Our Species 2016–2021 (New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritiage, 2016).

  18. 18.

    et al. Resolving lost herbivore community structure using coprolites of four sympatric moa species (Aves: Dinornithiformes). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 16910–16915 (2013).

  19. 19.

    , , & A mammoth undertaking: harnessing insight from functional ecology to shape de-extinction priority setting. Funct. Ecol. (2016).

  20. 20.

    Is it right to reverse extinction? Nature 509, 261 (2014).

  21. 21.

    , , & Rewilding is the new Pandora’s box in conservation. Curr. Biol. 26, R87–R91 (2016).

  22. 22.

    & Funding extinction? Biological needs and political Realities in the allocation of resources to endangered species recovery. BioSci. 52, 169–177 (2002).

  23. 23.

    , , & What drives policy decision-making related to species conservation? Biol. Cons. 142, 1370–1380 (2009).

  24. 24.

    et al. Financial costs of meeting global biodiversity conservation targets: current spending and unmet needs. Science 338, 946–949 (2012).

  25. 25.

    , & Setting conservation priorities. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 1162, 237–264 (2009).

  26. 26.

    , & Optimal allocation of resources among threatened species: a project prioritization protocol. Cons. Biol. 23, 328–338 (2009).

Download references


J.R.B. was supported the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). H.P.P. was funded by an ARC Laureate Fellowship and CEED.

Author information


  1. Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada

    • Joseph R. Bennett
  2. Science and Policy Group, Department of Conservation, 70 Moorhouse Avenue, Addington, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

    • Richard F. Maloney
  3. School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand

    • Tammy E. Steeves
  4. New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, 59 Goulburn Street, Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia

    • James Brazill-Boast
  5. University of Queensland, ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Hugh P. Possingham
  6. Conservation Science, The Nature Conservancy, 245 Riverside Drive, West End, Queensland 4101, Australia

    • Hugh P. Possingham
  7. University of Otago, Department of Zoology, 340 Great King Street, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand

    • Philip J. Seddon


  1. Search for Joseph R. Bennett in:

  2. Search for Richard F. Maloney in:

  3. Search for Tammy E. Steeves in:

  4. Search for James Brazill-Boast in:

  5. Search for Hugh P. Possingham in:

  6. Search for Philip J. Seddon in:


J.R.B., R.F.M. and P.J.S. designed the study. J.R.B., R.F.M. and J.B.-B. analysed the data. J.R.B. wrote the paper, with input from all other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph R. Bennett.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary Tables 1,2; Supplementary Discussion