PROMOTION OF LONG-TERM ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETIES

John A. Phillips

Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species

Zoological Society of San Diego

Box 551, San Diego, California 92112

USA

PHONE 619-685-3256; FAX 619-557-3959

jphillips@sandiegozoo.org

Abstract

A purist's approach to conservation contends that there is only one strategy that can maintain biodiversity: save property and the resident species will be saved. Land acquisition programs have educated the public by addressing that basic philosophy. Many of these programs have been very successful. More recently, the universal decline of large mammalian species has fueled advocates of the antithesis of this strategy: focus attention on saving a key large species and the property it inhabits will be preserved. Part of the philosophy behind this strategy assumes that a contained, geographically centralized population of a single or few high priority species will justify the protection of large tracts of land as refuges or reserves. Well-publicized public education programs and fund-raising campaigns often accompany this strategy. Although such species are capable of generating great public sympathy, they are generally not representative of the environment in its totality, especially in cases where sustainability is the ultimate endpoint. Under the latter strategy, environmental indicators have often been misused in attempts to protect certain high profile species, the so-called "charismatic mega-vertebrates"; e.g. the rhinoceros, elephant, tiger. Thus, a paradox exists: conservation action through an educated public is stimulated most by charismatic species, but such action may not be the most conducive to develop sustainable biodiversity programs in the affected environments.

Regardless of the merits of either philosophy/strategy, both require that the underlying environment be studies in an integrative fashion for sustainability to be a successful outcome. However, such integrated efforts are not easily managed as most scientists, and indeed bureaucrats, are taught to focus on specific projects rather than overarching programs. When examining the biology of particular environments this lack of integration is most apparent at the level of plant - animal interaction. From a general perspective it appears that studies focusing on this level of interaction may provide the most relevant information with regard to questions of sustainability.

The ultimate decisions regarding management of endangered species must continue to reside with the nations in which natural populations still exist. Pressures from external sources can, and have often been counterproductive. Conversely, it is paramount to increase scientific information that will help nations develop the capacity to manage and preserve endangered species as part of their natural resource base. This does not mean endangered species or the natural environment should be the subject of manipulative studies, rather, it requires studies that focus on strategic, integrated conservation issues.

Understanding and mananging endemic (and perhaps endangered) species and habitats has become a complicated issue as each species tends to have its unique inherent problems. Many of these problems arise because little information exists for the species that are either in captive units or in natural situations that are relatively protected. Even when programs are successful in increasing total numbers, how those animals and their offspring should be managed in the future cannot be determined without sufficient information with regard to the genetics, physiology, and disease resistence on an individual basis. Such information will be necessary to facilitate continued expansion of the reserve network or to determine which existing reserves are the most compatible for sustainability issues.

This talk will examine several studies that have been completed on reserves. Issues such as captive propagation, and micromanagement of animal and plant resources will be reviewed.