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The Ethics of De-Extinction


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I was reading an opinion piece on de-extinction1 and it started me thinking about the ethics of wildlife conservation and, in particular, the de-extinction of species.

 

It seems that we are a lot futher along in our ability to create extant animals based on the DNA of extinct species2. But, as several of these commentators have asked, should we?

 

Surely we have some obligation to repair damage to the eco-system that we, as an intelligent species have caused. To that end, it could be argued that we have some obligation to see species like the eastern elk and the passenger pigeon, both hunted to extinction by humans, largely for sport.

 

But how far back do we go? Do we have some obligation to species that died out before the modern era (and who defines "modern")? As Sutter points out in his piece:

 

 

 

No one will be able to re-engineer a woolly mammoth that is genetically identical to those that roamed Siberia 10,000 years ago, he said, but we will be able to make something close, likely using elephants as a surrogate. Scientists already have "brought back several mutations (from woolly mammoth DNA) and put them into elephant cells successfully," he said.

 

But should we be doing this? Do we have any ethical obligation to these species that died out because they could no longer survive a changing climate? Where will they live? Would they even be able to fend for themselves in the modern world? Would they be taxonomically distinct enough from their surrogate parents to be considered separate species?

 


1: Sutter, J. D. (5 May 2014), Should scientists 'Jurassic-Park' extinct species back to life?, http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/02/opinion/sutter-jurassic-park-endangered/index.html?hpt=op_r1

2: Zimmer, C (April 2013). Bringing Them Back to Life. National Geographic Magazine. See http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/125-species-revival/zimmer-text

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Surely we have some obligation to repair damage to the eco-system that we, as an intelligent species have caused. To that end, it could be argued that we have some obligation to see species like the eastern elk and the passenger pigeon, both hunted to extinction by humans, largely for sport.

I agree with this part. Of course, we'd need to study the effects of reintroducing these species into ecosystems that have adapted to them being gone. But we broke this, and should see if it can be fixed effectively.

 

Do we have any ethical obligation to these species that died out because they could no longer survive a changing climate?

I would say no. Not in a "not our fault" kind of way exactly, just that we need to choose which species should be brought back so we should choose from a list of viable reasons. If natural climate overcomes your evolutionary adaptations, you aren't fit enough.

 

I could see a case for bringing back a species made extinct by climate change or cataclysm, but only if this species added something extremely beneficial to the environment with little negative impact.

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There are spaces where such fauna could roam, the extreme north, where things like caribou and musk oxen live, they used to share those habitats with woolly mammoths woolly rinos and such but many of these animals also migrated huge distances like from places like the midwest to the arctic circle as they followed the weather. I'm not sure the midwest is ready for herds of mammoths, every winter...

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...

But how far back do we go? Do we have some obligation to species that died out before the modern era (and who defines "modern")? As Sutter points out in his piece:

...

I would say that we should try to make such 'repairs' only if the new stable state is yet not reached - that is, only while the ecological system is still largely in transition caused by our influence. Once the new stable state is mostly reached, any repair effort should be regarded as a new disruption.

 

This means, I believe, that that there is only a brief time to make any repair. This also means that no repair should be taken if the environmental change happened slowly enough so that the system was always in a stable state.... However in case of some sudden disruption (like an oil spill), we should try to make repairs as quickly as possible.

 

Anyway, I think that the word "prevention" should be the ecological mantra, not the "repair".

 

But I am a great supporter of making lost species live again! Only they should be studied in closed environments - never released.

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I was reading an opinion piece on de-extinction1 and it started me thinking about the ethics of wildlife conservation and, in particular, the de-extinction of species.

Not to sound like a conspiracy theorists, but "wildlife" is essentially scam. There's barely a forest on this Earth that hasn't been touched by humans over hundreds or even thousands of years, and you can tell this by soil composition changes that corresponds to tribal locations in soil samples as well as changes in the species composition in differen areas based on different cultures own records of types of trees they planted and their practices of preserving their environment while still modifying it. When you see black-and white videos of "wildlife," there's hundreds of natives just on the other side of the camera.

So, it shows inducing a larger change isn't more or less ethical than really any other change that we're use to seeing, so bringing back a few species won't be the end of the world. The environment will go on, life will adapt to whatever with or without us. What is "good" or "bad" for the environment depends entirely on the arbitrary assertion of which species one deems worth ensuring the survival of, because there will always be some species that survive.

Edited by SamBridge
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  • 1 year later...

But should we be doing this? I think that i even wonder if we should be recreating modern day animals. I think that eventhough we are causing global warming we should not try to recreate the animals that went extinct because maybe they are supposed to become extinct maybe they became extinct not because of humans or weather it could have been a different reason and maybe there is a reason for them to go extinct.Do we have any ethical obligation to these species that died out because they could no longer survive a changing climate?no we dont, we have an ethical obligation to protect the animals currently living on earth and keep them from extinction Where will they live? who knows zoooz probably Would they even be able to fend for themselves in the modern world? in zoo's yes Would they be taxonomically distinct enough from their surrogate parents to be considered separate species? if they cant have a baby with an animal the same species then their parents then yes they would be distinct, like donkeys cant mate with either horses or mules so they are a different species with a different number of chromosomes thats what really matters.

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  • 3 weeks later...

We better turn our full attention toward saving Bees.

I agree but that's pretty off topic buddy.

 

Back on topic:

 

It is a difficult question to answer and I guess it kind of depends on which side of the Darwin fence you are on. You know that whole "survival of the fittest" crap. Not to say that it does not have some logical arguments, first and for most in this particular arguments case being that if we bring these extinct species back what cascade effect will they have on the rest of the environment? One cannot discount that humans are predator, therefore part of the biological environment. We wiped them out as any predator might do so to a weak species. Which could be considered a natural flow.

 

However the counter to that is that humans are intelligent and therefore make decisions that are sometimes at odds with nature. (humans make informed decisions about nature: nature does not make informed decisions: therefore humans may not always agree with nature...ish?) So we should have no misgivings about bringing back extinct species as long as they are not intelligent and not a threat. Then again who knows what kinds of broad reaching consequences releasing a previously extinct species on the world could be? Perhaps it will not seem like such a good idea when a T-rex is eating your living room (bit of an exaggerated consequence). Mammoths could over turn the elephant species, consume food originally eaten by other species, create a food source for predators which could then in turn increase in population, which could lead to other species being threatened. You might be bring back one species at the cost of what evolution has created; several other species. Of course this is all hypothetical, and assuming that the un-extinct species would be released into the wild.

Edited by Cuba
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There's a fence?

Why not? You either go full blown stongest will survive and humans should kill everything because we naturally posses the abilty to...or you go hey we understand what we are doing and we shouldent go around killing everything because of that. Then again I'm mostly drawing from the Darwin I was spoon fed in school so I could be compleatly arse backwards.

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Why not? You either go full blown stongest will survive and humans should kill everything because we naturally posses the abilty to...or you go hey we understand what we are doing and we shouldent go around killing everything because of that. Then again I'm mostly drawing from the Darwin I was spoon fed in school so I could be compleatly arse backwards.

 

OK, I can see those are two extreme points of view but I don't see what Darwin has to do with it (I assumed you were talking about evolution, or something).

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OK, I can see those are two extreme points of view but I don't see what Darwin has to do with it (I assumed you were talking about evolution, or something).

First its hard to call something extreme when its a yes or a no question. Did you kill the bug. Kind-of is not an answer, you either did or you did not.

 

Second the way natural selection is presented by Darwin; what is it but survival of the fittest?

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First its hard to call something extreme when its a yes or a no question. Did you kill the bug. Kind-of is not an answer, you either did or you did not.

 

"Humans should kill everything because we naturally posses the abilty to" is not the same as killing a bug. Which is why I called it extreme.

 

Second the way natural selection is presented by Darwin; what is it but survival of the fittest?

 

1. "Survival of the fittest" was not Darwin's description.

 

2. It is a really crude and often misunderstood (apparently, who'da thought it) shorthand.

 

3. "Fittest" does not mean strongest, it means the best fit for the environment.

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"Humans should kill everything because we naturally posses the ability to" is not the same as killing a bug. Which is why I called it extreme.

 

People really have a hard time with analogies on this forum... I am specifically referring to the fact that you either do or do not agree with whether we have the right to kill everything or we do not. Since killing is rather final there is not a lot of gray area there (or rather none).

 

1. "Survival of the fittest" was not Darwin's description.

 

2. It is a really crude and often misunderstood (apparently, who'da thought it) shorthand.

 

3. "Fittest" does not mean strongest, it means the best fit for the environment.

1. I believed I asked whats the difference between the statements "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" and not precisely that Darwin referred to it as survival of the fittest (which I agree is false).

 

2. Short hand is just an easier way to determine how things work. Prime example Newtonian Physics vs. Einstein. Newton works for most things and is easily explained, but Einstein has a more accepted model...yet is extremely complicated.

 

3. I agree completely which is why I think it applies to natural selection. It also implies that the most fit have some sort of an advantage over the rest of living nature. Which could and perhaps should result in the extermination of other species (back to my original point) depending on which side of the fence you are on!

 

Edit: I'd just like to add that I do not think we have the right. So to me, that means I disagree partially with natural selection.

Edited by Cuba
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People really have a hard time with analogies on this forum... I am specifically referring to the fact that you either do or do not agree with whether we have the right to kill everything or we do not. Since killing is rather final there is not a lot of gray area there (or rather none).

 

It is not a problem of analogies, it is your inability to be clear about what you are saying.

 

Killing everything or killing nothing is not an either/or choice. You might say it is OK to kill for food, or for self defence. So it is a very grey area.

 

 

2. Short hand is just an easier way to determine how things work.

 

In this case the simplification just confuses people. (You are a prime example.)

 

 

Edit: I'd just like to add that I do not think we have the right. So to me, that means I disagree partially with natural selection.

 

Humans choosing to kill other animals has little or nothing to do with natural selection.

Edited by Strange
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It is not a problem of analogies, it is your inability to be clear about what you are saying.

 

Killing everything or killing nothing is not an either/or choice. You might say it is OK to kill for food, or for self defence. So it is a very grey area.

 

 

In this case the simplification just confuses people. (You are a prime example.)

 

 

Humans choosing to kill other animals has little or nothing to do with natural selection.

 

To clarify. I am not saying there is not a gray area in natural selection. I am reffering to the topic of this thread. They are either dead and we leave them dead as it was our natural right to cause their extiction, or we bring them back and they are alive because we have some sort of responsibility as intelligent creatures to preserve weaker species. As far as I can see there is not much of a kinda bring them back. The base question is what is more ethicly correct, bring them back or not. Yes you could make the argument that they could be kept in captivity or they will not be the same, but that does not answer the question on whether we ethicilly should have the right to do so. Humans killing off other animals has everything to do with natural selection. It has far reaching effects in nature. But do we consider ourselves part of that eco-system or not? Is it the natural order of things that humans did this or not?

 

I apologise if I was or still am being unclear, the analogies were ment to be an example to help understand my point. Usually if I dive right in I end up having to draw a picture of analogies later, I seem to have done the opposite this time. Did not mean to offend though I would be lieing if I said you did not.

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99.9999% of earth's species have already lived and died. Of the 30-50 (estimated) million that remain, only a limited few will go extinct due to human activity.

 


I agree with this part. Of course, we'd need to study the effects of reintroducing these species into ecosystems that have adapted to them being gone. But we broke this, and should see if it can be fixed effectively.


I would say no. Not in a "not our fault" kind of way exactly, just that we need to choose which species should be brought back so we should choose from a list of viable reasons. If natural climate overcomes your evolutionary adaptations, you aren't fit enough.

I could see a case for bringing back a species made extinct by climate change or cataclysm, but only if this species added something extremely beneficial to the environment with little negative impact.

 

Agreed.

 

A good example is the Northern Pacific Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris). They were hunted to near extinction in previous centuries, but reintroduction to areas has caused a serious detriment to other species.

 

There's a hypothesis that reintroducing sea otters would cause urchin populations to decline, hence enhancing kelp forests, therefore re-creating new habitat for those species to re-establish. However, this has not borne into reality at this stage. Yes, urchins have declined, but the kelp forests continue to decline. Not necessarily because of otters, but likely acidification. There are locations in Alaska (near Cordova, from my experience) where otters have decimated every living mollusk and crustacean which were once populous until the 1980's. They are resorting to the few Pacific Tomcod (Microgadus proximus) that remain as their mainstay.

 

The Purple Graceful Crab (Cancer gracalis) was once abundant in my region of the world. In 1983, the biomass was estimated at 250,000 animals per sq. km, but since reintroduction of sea otters, it's > 10,000/km. The Spotted Ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei) is highly dependent upon the foragings of crabs to expose benthic organisms for food. There is no fishery, incidental or otherwise for these species, yet their decline has been significant nonetheless. That said, should we hunt otters again? No. There's no need (excluding aboriginal purposes, perhaps).

 

Re-introduction of one species, often spells doom for another.

 

Ethics are issues for mankind itself. Not for mankind's place in nature or how we perceive the animal kingdom to be.

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To clarify. I am not saying there is not a gray area in natural selection. I am reffering to the topic of this thread. They are either dead and we leave them dead as it was our natural right to cause their extiction, or we bring them back and they are alive because we have some sort of responsibility as intelligent creatures to preserve weaker species.

 

It is still not a black and white issue. It might be important to save some species and not others, for example.

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Mammoths could over turn the elephant species, consume food originally eaten by other species, create a food source for predators which could then in turn increase in population, which could lead to other species being threatened. You might be bring back one species at the cost of what evolution has created; several other species. Of course this is all hypothetical, and assuming that the un-extinct species would be released into the wild.

 

 

How could mammoths impact other elephant species? They do not share the same habitat.

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How could mammoths impact other elephant species? They do not share the same habitat.

 

Indeed. They'd be more of a threat to Elk, Caribou, and Moose than to Elephants in India and Africa.

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The point was simply that it would effect the natural order. No I do not know presicsly which species would be effected, I am not a zoologist nor biologist. It takes neither however to understand Natural Selection. Nit pick if you like, add more variables but the question remains the same. Is it right that we bring back an individual species on an individual basis based on the consequences and/or benifits of that action, or not?

 

The fact that you are picking apart my arguments via variable information that actually does not change the question makes me think you are more trolls than scientists. I am not making a claim, I am asking the question that I have yet to see any appropriate arguments for or against. Instead its simply a bunch of abnoxious proffessors pawing over symantics. If you do not like How I am presenting the question then present it better! Or better yet start an argument over why or why not! Make an argument of why it cant be black and white! Look for a solution!

 

Instead I'm sure you will once again find every fallacy in the wording of this post and thumb it, which has nothing to do with the OP but rather your disparaging desire to correct others.

 

/rantoff

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Is it right that we bring back an individual species on an individual basis based on the consequences and/or benifits of that action, or not?

 

It depends.

 

 

Make an argument of why it cant be black and white!

 

Such arguments seem to be ignored.

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Away from your black/white polarizations.

Why is it wrong to consider in black an white? Seems to me you either support it due to the benifits outweighing the consquences, or visa versa. I wait with baited breath to be told I am wrong and why specifically.

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