Is De-Extinction Worth the Effort?

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-21 02:32

As de-extinction technology develops, there has been some chatter about bringing extinct species back to life. However, should we do so just because we could?

Reviving extinct species was once the stuff of science fiction and movies about rampaging dinosaurs. Now, we can actually bring these extinct species back—within reason, of course. While there's a certain sense of the romantic in seeing these species alive and walking the earth again, we should approach the possibility without sentimentality.

There are some questions that need answers before scientists should even consider bringing back an extinct species. After all, these species went extinct for a reason. We need to know for sure where a revived species will live, for example. What if its habitat is already gone? What caused its extinction in the first place?

The Effects of De-Extinction

The laughing owl, which went extinct in 1914, was one of the New Zealand species considered for revival.
[Photo by Henry Charles Clarke Wright]

That said, a team of scientists have come up with a way to discern whether or not an extinct species should have a second chance at life. The team calls this approach “decision science”. It examines whether or not a species would be worth bringing back and what the impact of its return would be.

So will we be seeing the return of well-known extinct species? Possibly, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Researchers applied decision science to the possible return of extinct species that once lived in New Zealand. With this approach, the researchers were able to determine that de-extinction may cause still-living species to themselves go extinct.

New Zealand has seen a spate of recent extinctions, making it a good starting point for de-extinction. 11 of the extinct species are good candidates for revival. Through decision science, the researchers evaluated the feasibility of bringing these extinct species back. They considered the costs and benefits of revival as well as its impact on other living species in the country.

The researchers found that bringing these extinct species back may not be worth it. For one thing, reviving one species costs as much as conserving eight or more living species. Channeling resources to bringing extinct species back may push living species into extinction. This, of course, isn't the effect we're looking for. The study did not even factor in the initial costs of employing de-extinction technologies yet. These costs, though yet unknown, will probably be quite high.

Impact on Conservation

Reviving extinct species is an exciting possibility, but the researchers caution against too much excitement. We need to weigh costs as well as possible social, economic, and of course environmental issues.

Though the scenario above is somewhat bleak, it won't be true for all other possible scenarios. It may also be possible that de-extinction will benefit conservation efforts. Successfully bringing a species back to life can make a positive impact on present conservation strategies. For example, a revived species can attract more attention and funding for conservation projects.

Still, it's important to note that de-extinction is not the same as conservation. However, it can push scientists and conservationists into developing new ways to approach the way they manage species under their care.

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