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

Abstract

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.

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Figure 1: Number of extant species prioritized for conservation for different de-extinction scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Joseph R. Bennett.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary Tables 1,2; Supplementary Discussion (PDF 310 kb)

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Bennett, J., Maloney, R., Steeves, T. et al. Spending limited resources on de-extinction could lead to net biodiversity loss. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0053 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-016-0053

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