So I was just thinking: are rare species that are very similar to other species less important to conserve?
Sometimes I think about biological conservation as a method of conserving the vast amount of data which lays in a plant’s DNA. Therefore, it would stand to reason that a plant which has DNA very similar to another would be of less importance than another plant which has markedly different DNA. I know that nomenclature is not entirely based on DNA, but it has a strong influence. Therefore, it would stand to reason that something like a monotypic genus, or family, would be of great conservation value because it is so different than other species.
Does this make sense or am I way off the mark? Are conservation decisions made due to considerations like this? If so, how are those decisions made? Thanks!
I don’t think it could ever be as simple as that. Conservation needs to take into consideration countless factors, including less noble ones like available resources and plain feasibility.
But to keep to your proposal, suppose two genetically similar species were nevertheless crucial components of two separate biomes (say, apex predators), without whom the ecosystem would be dramatically changed. It would be hard to argue they were less important for conservation than maybe a monotypic insect in the same environment, who may occupy a similar niche as several other species.
I think in practice, it’s more complex than that. BUT there are initiatives like Zoological Society of London’s https://www.edgeofexistence.org/ that explicitly focus on rare extinction-risk species that are also very distinct within their taxonomic group.
I wouldn’t simplify it to monotypic genera per se (since genera vary quite a bit in how much diversification they represent). That said, there’s definitely value to thinking about evolutionary uniqueness when it comes to conservation I think. I’ve seen arguments for targeting species for conservation based on their phylogenetic uniqueness and thinks that’s a valid perspective.
The other fact to consider is that while Linnaean taxonomy (KPCOFGS) is constantly being revised to more accurately reflect patterns of relatedness, there is no meaningful scientific definition of any of the taxonomic levels. Even biological definitions of what is a species vary widely. So one cannot always assume that two plants that are in the same genus are necessarily more closely related, in terms of genetic similarity, than two other plants that are in sister genera. One cannot even always assume, for example, that two bacteria classified in the same species are more genetically similar than two animals classified as being in different families.
Other things being equal, more biodiversity is preserved if you save a species that is the only one its genus (or family, etc.) than one of two closely related species.
Other things are rarely equal, of course, so this is a really complex issue.
There are situations like “white-throated beardtongues” in NM (oliganthus, inflatus, pseudoparvus, metcalfei, griffinii) where I think one of the species could go extinct and botanists could introduce the seed of another to fill the same niche.
On the other hand, take a super diverse genus like Perdita, which is filled with specialists. I don’t know of any flowers that are only pollinated by a Perdita, but the absence would be noticeable. It’s also an example of a near impossible conservation goal, because most of the species have no background data to judge population trends and not easy to find or monitor. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5g0xtwpF4k
All taxonomic ranks are human constructs. Ask any self described taxonomist to define a genus or family (or even species). An honest person will admit there is no universal (or even a single good) definition.
So is a monotypic genus more “important” than a genus that contains dozens of species? Maybe or maybe not. It often depends on your (very human) point of view. If a group has been studied a lot, and/or the “experts” on the group are splitters, then the odds of having any monotypic genera increase. Meanwhile, a less studied group, or one in which the experts are lumpers will have less, or none.
It’s like saying Panthera genus doesn’t worth it as much because it’s not monotypic, close species never have the same niche and ecological role, or they wouldn’t be different species.
Panthera (the roaring cats) gets a lot of attention because the species in that genus are large, charismatic, and in most cases are in trouble. They are also “umbrella species” in that conservation of large areas with suitable habitat for any of these species can benefit numerous other species.
Nothing of what you said changed my message, species in a genus don’t have to be copies of each other. Giraffes deserve attention no matter if they’re subspecies or separate species. We can say so about small species too, but it’s easier to use taxa everybody knows.
Stephen Meyers is of course correct that the various taxonomic ranks are human constructs. The only one that I would argue has some existance in real life is the species. Even with species, though, borders between species are often arbitrary. (Sometimes they’re not!)
Nonetheless, I think comparing the species-richness of higher ranks (genera, families, etc.) does give us a rough (very rough) guide to how genetically distinct the species are and how important they might be to the conservation goal of preserving biodiversity. This is because taxonomic isolation should be an indicator of genetic distinction. (Note: Conservation has many additional goals, many related to ecosystem functioning.) Preserving species in monotypic genera like Welwitschia, Ginkgo, Wollemia, or Oemleria (plant examples), or Ornithorhynchus (platypus), preserves a greater spread of genetic diversity than preserving, for example, as many fescue grass species, assuming the rest of the genus Festuca survives.
This doesn’t mean that all species of Festuca can replace each other. Some certainly can’t, though probably some can. (Festuca valesiaca from Turkey is slowly making at attempt to replace F. idahoensis, native in Oregon, aided by crews that plant in on roadsides.)
I wasn’t arguing with your message, but just adding the point that there are many different factors that determine conservation priority. Some are biology-based and some are driven by public perception. It’s easier to prioritize funding and actions for the conservation of a charismatic animal than, say, the average insect.
That is part of the motivation for our Urban Caracal Project. A charismatic animal, used to promote - please don’t use rat poison - it kills owls and caracal.
I would argue otherwise. If other ranks had no real-life existence, then cladograms would be meaningless. To use Marina’s example, if the genus Panthera was not a real-life entity, then one could argue that Panthera pardus and Neofelis nebulosa are more similar than Panthera pardus and Panthera leo. The frenetic pace of taxonomic revision in our times suggests that the reality of the other taxonomic ranks is considered especially important.
To use another example, consider caterpillars which specialize, not on a single species of host plant, but on a single family, such as Asteraceae or Fabaceae. From the caterpillar’s point of view, Fabaceae is a real entity distinct from, say, Onagraceae.
I don’t disagree about the reality of the relationships show by cladograms. But where you put the ranks is arbitrary.
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