Thursday, June 16, 2011

EVOsystem Services in the Big Apple.

For the past three days, I have been in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History for the annual meeting of the DIVERSITAS core project bioGENESIS (thanks to Joel Cracraft for hosting). The goal of bioGENESIS is to promote the incorporation of evolutionary biology into biodiversity science. Every year, evolutionary biologists of many stripes gather in some exotic locale (Paris, Brazil, Bali, NYC) to discuss how the goals of the project can be advanced and to make steps in that direction. More importantly, we drink large amounts of fine wine and argue, argue, argue about all things biodiversity and evolution.

At each meeting, a major topic of discussion is how biodiversity science seems to have lost the biodiversity – and, for that matter, the science. Instead, it seems to be all about ecosystem services, which does not recognize the value of biodiversity per se and makes policy makers think that all that matters is that we have (for example) pollinators and clean water right now. What is forgotten is that all of these services are provided through the evolution of different species from a common ancestor, and so all ecosystem services are really EVOsystem services. (If you like or dislike the term all credit or discredit should be directed to Dan Faith, who seems to have a knack/fault for such terms or acronyms – PD anyone?). Moreover, evosystem services are so much more because they recognize that biodiversity has current or potential future values to humans that we don’t know about yet and can’t yet envision. And, of course, conserving biodiversity is important in its own right – even if there isn’t any clear human benefit now or in the future.

So what are some evosystem services that biodiversity has provided over the past few days. How about wine? Would you like it if all we had to drink was Merlot? Thank Evolution for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Block 7 versus Block 28 Zinfandel. All of this is the product of genetic diversity arising through evolution in the recent past. And maybe in a few years we will have something new variety or strain; I propose “Petit Donoghue” – one can only imagine it will be accessible. And what about all those different dogs I have seen straining the leashes of those frenetic dog walkers of New York. All of this – the diversity of dog skull anatomy is as great as the entire Carnivora (work by Abby Drake) – was the product of evolution over the recent past. Now there is clearly an evosystem service that doesn’t filter water or pollinate crop plants yet is nevertheless an important part of our modern cultural landscape. I suppose dogs in general might perform an important role fertilizing Central Park but presumably this task could be accomplished just fine – maybe better – by only one breed, or just wolves for that matter.

Biodiversity produced by evolution: 2000 wines at Nice Matin, the site of our dinner on Tuesday Night.

And this is indeed the problem with ecosystem services as the primary justification for biodiversity in a policy arena – it doesn’t necessarily require biodiversity per se. That is, if all we were interested in is a particular set of ecosystem services, perhaps we could just figure out those species we need for those services and then stop – Great Danes for everyone. But this ignores the possibility the Pomeranians and Weiner Dogs interact with the environment in different ways – ways that have consequences for current and future ecosystem function – even if we can’t see it now.

Further reading:
Faith, D.P., S. Magallón, A.P. Hendry, E. Conti, T. Yahara, and M.J. Donoghue. 2010. Evosystem services: an evolutionary perspective on the links between biodiversity and human well-being. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2:66-74.

Hendry, A.P., L.G. Lohmann, E. Conti, J. Cracraft, K.A. Crandall, D.P. Faith, C. Häuser, C.A. Joly, K. Kogure, A. Larigauderie, S. Magallón, C. Moritz, S. Tillier, R. Zardoya, A.-H. Prieur-Richard, B.A. Walther, T. Yahara, and M.J. Donoghue. 2010. Evolutionary biology in biodiversity science, conservation, and policy: a call to action. Evolution 64:1517–1528.

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