Conservation Efforts Need to Look Beyond Charismatic Species

A new article in the journal Nature seeks to change the way conservation efforts are conceived. Rather than focusing on single “charismatic” species like tigers or gorillas, say researchers Anthony Ives and Bradley Cardinale, conservation programs should focus on whole ecosystems. They support their contention with an analysis of the way biological communities respond to stress — acid rain, say, or habitat destruction. Weaker or less adaptable species die out first, providing a short-term boost to their competitors (“compensation”). As the stress continues, however, compensation decreases and ecosystems collapse. The fate of individual species, and the point at which compensation ceases and collapse begins, are too complex to predict, say the authors, and for that reason preserving ecosystems must be the focus. We can no longer focus on individual species, says Cardinale, “because we have no idea what species may make the community resistant in the future; we would be prudent to conserve as many as we can.”