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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Battling the questions of extinction

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Gary Opit is entitled to think what he likes about my opinions regarding the merits of battling extinction but he’s not entitled to make up facts.

When he says that extinctions are not normal he’s flying in the face of the evidence. Since life began on this planet billions of species have gone extinct, most of them before humans evolved.

Some of these extinctions resulted from catastrophic events, such as the asteroid-caused extinction of the dinosaurs along with many other species, while others occur naturally. Charles Darwin recognised this fact and coined the phrase natural selection to explain the phenomenon. By this Darwin meant than some species are better designed or adapted for their local environment than others and have greater reproductive success.

Under this concept species become extinct because they are out-competed by other species. Humans are excellent at changing the environment, which is certainly driving some species to extinction. In my view we should always try to minimise our effect on other species but in reality we can never reduce it to zero so we’re bound to cause some extinction; it’s part of the natural order and we should accept it as such.

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  1. A very convenient and trite platitude twisting the point Gary Opit tried to make. So since you missed it, we are pushing so many species so fast towards extinction – despite full knowledge of what we’re doing – that we are in the period termed “the Sixth Extinction” by some scientists, rivalling both the number and percentage of species lost globally in earlier periods of mass extinctions, but at a rate 1,000 to 1,500 times faster than any previous event.

    As for your interpretation of Darwin, natural selection is more of an explanation as to why there are so many species, because the number and diversity of habitats facilitated specialist adaption and radiation from common ancestors. And it takes thousands of generations to achieve small changes.

    When your Mitchell’s rainforest Snail disappears, as is likely under current attitudes and climate pressures, it won’t be replaced by a similar, better adapted and highly evolved rainforest specialist snail. It already is the pinnacle of evolution to that specialist rainforest environment, and it’s demise means the end of that ancient lineage. IF it is replaced by anything similar, it will be by the pan-global common European garden snail, a destructive generalist pest animal like cane toads, carp & mynahs. Invertebrates are at the base of all trophic systems, and when one goes extinct it inevitably impacts other species further up the chain, and sometimes beneath them. That process is not evolution. It’s an extinction crisis, and one that the legislation recognised and aims to avert.

    And that is the point about all this talk over an endangered snail…because it appears Byron Council wilfully ignored the legislation.

  2. What Darwin was describing was not simply why some species go extinct but the way in which new species are created and how we arrived at a rich diversification of life rather than all remain simple, single-celled creatures in the primal slime. Hence he called his seminal treatise: On Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. He gained much inspiration from the Galápagos Islands where he observed small variations between similar species, variations that were particularly advantageous to survival in the unique conditions each island, in its isolation, afforded its population.

    The theory is linked with the theory of evolution – not revolution. It is about the slow honing of ideal genes through the adaptation of life to its – generally slowly changing – environment. It explains the delicate balance created by the natural world that sustains life.

    Of course there have been rare dramatic changes over the millennia like an asteroid strike that probably resulted in mass extinctions. This rate of extinction is however not the ‘normal’ course of events just like the acceleration of extinction levels we are now seeing is not ‘normal’. Even if we try to minimise this it is still human manipulation and just where do we draw the line?

    In one way the rise to dominance of one species, Homo sapiens, could be viewed as just one more natural cataclysmic event, the consequences of which we should just allow to run their course. But unlike asteroids, Homo sapiens supposedly have intelligence and agency. Do we want to use these to callously disregard the rights of our fellow Earthlings, to rob future generations of the beauty and rich diversity of our natural world, to potentially bring about our own extinction?


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