The Role of Science for Conservation – book review

/ Gabriel Thoumi

The Role of Science for Conservation, edited by Matthias Wolff and Mark Gardner, celebrates Charles Darwin’s Bicentennial and 50 years of research by the Charles Darwin Foundation in The Galápagos, Ecuador.

The Role of Science for Conservation, edited by Matthias Wolff and Mark Gardner, celebrates Charles Darwin’s Bicentennial and 50 years of research by the Charles Darwin Foundation in The Galápagos, Ecuador. Using The Galápagos as a case study, The Role of Science for Conservation communicates to a wide audience about themes from a broad range of scientific disciplines. The book is divided into four parts: evolutionary context, biodiversity assessment and monitoring, modeling and restoration, and sustainable development.

Topical, rich in natural history, and integrated across topics, with broad themes that can be applied globally, The Role of Science for Conservation provides us with a concise analysis of key issues facing conservationists globally.

Before arriving The Galápagos in 1835, Charles Darwin spent almost four years observing ecological anomalies. It was almost like he was practicing his craft improving his skills before he arrived at The Galápagos. Once he arrived in The Galápagos, he quickly began to apply his skills often focusing on the The Galápagos Mockingbirds. It was clear to him that these mockingbirds exhibited biotic affinity. Furthermore, using language that would become the basis of evolutionary theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin wrote in 1839:

“… we may infer from these fats, what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts of the aborigines become adapted to the stranger’s craft or power.”

The Role of Science for Conservation, after introducing Charles Darwin and the voyage of The Beagle, introduces us to the 1905-1906 Galápagos expedition by the California Academy of Sciences. The role this second expedition has planned as a benchmark for conservation and the tools used by conservationists use is explained thoroughly.

With this historically important natural history basis, The Role of Science for Conservation begins by discussing the evolutionary context of the islands. A rich discussion follows with how the colonization of parasites with hosts occurs, and how this impacts ongoing evolutionary trends. For example, The Galápagos now has plasmodium, culex quinquefasciatus, avipoxivirus, and other diseases that are impacting endemic populations’ stability. As one of the most highly studied ecosystems globally, we can study the vectors of these introduced diseases to learn key lessons applicable elsewhere.

In the second part of the book, the authors discuss at length biodiversity monitoring opportunities and challenges within The Galápagos. Describing lessons learned elsewhere and their applicability in The Galápagos, the authors provide a thorough and precise analysis of “the neglected majority” and how taxonomy has diverged from conservation as taxonomists become focused on the lab, and not on conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. Within the context of The Galápagos, it is clear that some groups are well described such as mammals and birds, while other groups are very poorly studied and understood, such as fungi and marine and terrestrial invertebrates. These groups may have only 10% to 50% described scientifically. In summary, this means that in what may be the most studied ecosystem on Earth – the Galápagos – we have only described a small percentage of the species that exist on the islands after 175 years of scientific analysis!

The third part of the book begins with a very interesting analysis of fifty years of invasive species eradication efforts in The Galápagos. In the last 50 years, 57 eradication programs have occurred on the islands, with 27 deemed a success, 20 deemed a failure, and 10 ongoing. This provides us with a rich laboratory of key learnings from which we can draw experience from and apply on the islands and elsewhere. In particular, while not an eradication program in the classic sense, the experience of a decade of protection of the Galápagos Marine Reserve and its protection and impact on trophic levels is illuminating.

The fourth part of the book describes sustainable development future scenarios for The Galápagos. Leading with a chapter by Dr. Robert Costanza on ecosystem valuation of The Galápagos, it is clear that ecosystem modeling under various climate constraints can assist natural resource managers in managing ecosystems for simultaneous positive economic and ecological results.

The Role of Science for Conservation is a superb book describing trends in ecology through the lens of one of the most studied ecologies on Earth—The Galápagos.

How to order:

The Role of Science for Conservation

Publisher: Routledge

Author: Matthias Wolff and Mark Gardner, editors

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, LEED AP, is a natural resource scientist and financial consultant.

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