Well, I think it's about time to kick off a discussion about something.

Since I started the group, I feel responsible. So here goes.

This morning I read a short paper in Science about 'Assisited Colonisatio'. The basic idea is that in order to preserve species threatened by range contraction as a result of rapid climate change, it might sometimes be worth giving them a helping hand to expand their range or relocate to new habitat.

I have some reservations about that!

Firstly, I don't think you'll achieve much with this kind of single-species approach, unless the habitat you move them to is substantially similar to that which they were moved from (this might be possible in some circumstances).

Secondly, their suggestion that artificial reefs could be used to extend the availability of hard substrate so that reef species can migrate with changing temperatures strikes me as a very good way to set up invasion corridors for alien species to disperse into new habitat.

They also suggest that some species could benefit from the transplantation of individuals from more heat tolerant populations to areas experiencing temperature rises. For that to work you've got to be pretty sure that the differences in heat tolerance aren't due to phenotypic plasticity. They use Acropora corals as an example of species that could benefit from this kind of approach, but the paper they cite in support shows that the variation in heat tolerance is due to differences in the proportions of different strains of zoozanthellae in their tissues, and I'm not sure this is strictly inherited. Perhaps someone can clear that up for me?

But the authors do acknowledge that this is far from being advocated as a universal approach, which in some circumstance might be useful.

What do you think?

Have a read of the paper, it's quite short and readable, and then let's talk about it!

[I wrote a bit more on my blog, which you are under no obligation to read, if you read the paper you're fine. But I'm always glad of the traffic!]

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Replies to This Discussion

Gosh, no takers huh?

I think that if one species is going to be threatened by climate change then the rest of the species around it are going to be too. There is absolutely no point saving one species out of it's appropriate ecological context. "Sure, we've saved the coral... but we left it's zooanthellae behind! Ooops!"
If the ecosystem is mobile enough - high turnover of static individuals and lots of mobile indivduals - then the whole thing will just migrate given the chance. Isn't there evidence that similar things happened during the ice ages? Then we're left with:
a) the unmobile ecosystems causing issues. Either by getting in the way of other biomes migrating or by being left behind.
b) Obstacles to their migration - ie cities, or even lakes, excessively wide rivers
c) running out of places to go. If everything goes north, what happens to the polar bears? If everything goes up, what happens to the guys at the top?

So, back on topic - assisting them? Well maybe, but only if the biome moving is actually gonna happen. You could probably helpfully guide a moving biome around a city by collecting and sowing seed the direction you want it to, and maybe across smaller rivers. But there isn't much point moving plants without their pollinators, or moving animals into biomes where there is nothing for them to eat.
Wow. A response! And it only took 9 months!

Well, it was a while ago, but yeah, the idea assisting the migration of one species of interest outside of the context of its original ecosystem seems weird.

Sure, stuff moved as a result of natural climate change/ice ages, etc, but I get the impression that things are happening at an unprecedented rate these days. Trouble is that while some mobile species can just wander north, others can't migrate anywhere near fast enough - goodbye ecosystem.

Obstacles to migration is of course a problem, one mentioned specifically in the paper. There are lots of examples. They seem to be suggesting that this is the main use of their idea - effectively carrying the species 'over' these obstacles. Still seems to suffer from the same problem of failing to preserve the ecosystem.

Anyway, thanks for contributing!
9 months? Jeesh. I guess everyone must have their noses in the journals right now??? Although it has been awhile since I've seen an article that really inspired me (but then again I'm reading up on reverse-transcription and gene delivery systems, which have so many Acronyms that I swear my head is going to implode from my total lack of understanding)... I personally think that this is a bad idea unless the area that you are moving them to was a place that they once lived where they no longer do as a result of human activities. There is a big difference between rehabilitation and eco-engineering. I think eco-engineering is fine in desert regions and such where life is not likely to spread outside of the sustained zones, but in the oceans, forests, and islands, invasive species can completely destroy the balance of an ecosystem. Honestly, I think that we will see enough of nature moving around on its own and experimenting opportunistically. We really don't need to give it a helping hand with our incredibly limited understanding.

Having said that. I do think we should keep some representative members alive, harvest libraries of DNA, and try to save stem cells and gamete cells of threatened species because we may be able to put them back where they once were once we get this climate crisis under control.


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