Biodiversity Is Always a Goal, Right?

Apparently not. Consider this interesting passage from The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity, by James Lovelock:

Stable unchanging climates lasting for several thousand years tend to reduce diversity, but when the climate changes to either hotter or colder by a small amount the first response is an increase in biodiversity. This is because the new conditions give rare species a chance to flourish while the established ones have not had time to decline … [I]t is important to keep in mind that biodiversity and environmental quality are not simply proportional … So rich biodiversity is not necessarily something highly desirable and to be preserved at all costs.

This is a very different view of biodiversity than one gleans from most sources, and keep in mind that this is not the view of some nature-hater. Lovelock is the renowned British climate scientist who refers to himself as “a planetary physician,” bent on stopping humans from killing the Earth.

At the very least, the takeaway here is that the push and pull of evolution is endlessly complex — and, of course, endlessly fascinating.

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  1. Shirley Gregory says:

    Sorry, Stephen: faulty logic at work here. There’s nothing in Lovelock’s comments against protecting biodiversity. At the same time, allowing biodiversity to decrease today won’t do anything to curb climate change: climate change (and, yes, human interference with habitats) is causing biodiversity changes, not vice versa.

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  2. Chris Dudley says:

    SP (#11),

    I gave my comment in the context of reading the original source material for the quote given in the article. You may need to read the original as well to decide what Lovelock is saying about diversity. Googling a sentence from the quote will get you to an Amazon preview of Lovelock’s book.

    It may be difficult to count species for the purpose of determining biodiversity. Nevertheless, this is what is done. Measuring extinction can be a chore as well. Ivory-billed woodpecker extinct or not?

    Lovelock is, in my opinion, discussing the increase in the occurrence of rare species, not the new evolution of species, in the passage from which the quote was drawn. This is why his use of the word biodiversity is unusual since normally those rare species would be included in a biodiversity measure and their relative frequency would not be important.

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  3. Joao Ramos says:

    I don’t understand the relation of the title with the Lovelock ‘s passage.

    It states the impact of climate changes on biodiversity. The (doubtful) fact that an undesirable (by our current civilization) climate change leads to greater biodiversity says nothing about biodiversity as a goal, but as a consequence. The title makes it sound like there might be a reason to desire less biodiversity, but we can’t obviously infere from that passage, even if we give it full credit, that less biodiversity could mean no climate change. Really faulty logic.

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  4. Norma Harrison says:

    if they are resurrecting, we must help them by supporting organizations like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation (ibwfound.org), dedicated to the continued search of the ivory-bill and other highly endangered – almost extinct species.

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  5. Karuna Kasory says:

    If we sit back and brainstorm on the significance of conservation in our lives we will be shocked at the conclusions we can come up to!

    Why spend so much time and money in trying to preserve endangered species? As a life-line against a future major disease? As a panacea against possible today incurable/tomorrow curable diseases?

    The other day I got an inspiration insight into why we human beings would want to probe into nature conservation apart from what is usually discussed. Apart from serving the base of our food-chain, if only indirectly (I mean we don’t indulge in crocodiles or tigers) and aesthetic value (we all go nature trekking during one point of our mundane lives), there is also the fact that maybe our ‘human conscience’ is bugging us. Could it be because we feel guilty for accelerating global warming that we are pursuing efforts to taking conservation as a matter of heart? Is it right to claim that for ethical reasons we have to save what remains and halt the damage caused? Nature is no longer in equilibrium with itself, we have toppled the balance.Extinction is a normal process.It has taken place from day 1.

    To support my argument I would say that the ethical dimension is of utmost importance in the walk towards nature conservation.If not,we humans would just exterminate all species that didn’t have two legs and spoke English.We would have lived by extracting and preserving ‘non-human DNA’ in massive gene banks and simply resurrect these ‘extinct species’ by cloning if ever a use was found.

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  6. Heteromeles says:

    I’m starting to scratch my head. What is a “stable unchanging climates lasting for several thousand years.” We’ve got good evidence that there is such a thing. Second, when there’s a sudden shift in temperature, one of the potential results is that there’s a population crash in anything that’s living near the edge of its physiologically tolerable temperature. An example is a dune lizard I heard about that stops activity and goes underground around 41 deg. C, and dies around 45 deg. C. Raise the temperature by 4 deg on the lizard, and it’s toast. While rare species can become more common, the loss of species depends more on where the climate is relative to their survival niche, not how common they are.

    As for why we save biodiversity, I have a better argument. We’re excellent agents of natural selection, and we’re doing a great job right now selecting species that can take advantage of us. These include or domestic species, but also include weeds, diseases, and pests. Given the LARGE amount of money we spend fighting diseases, weeds, and pests (billions to trillions per year), I’d suggest that fostering a system that inhibits these things is cheaper.

    To put it another way, I’d much rather camp in a field of wildflowers that I have a bit to pay to keep up, rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to get rid of the thistles that will invade the site if I don’t keep the native system more or less intact.

    Native biodiversity provides a lot of services (ex: http://tinyurl.com/lwa3g4). While I appreciate contrarians like Lovelock, in this case, I think he’s not quite on track on this one.

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