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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

A new book by Helen Pilcher entitlted BRING BACK THE KING debates the feasibility and probability that science can resurrect extinct species like our once prolific Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and Passenger Pigeon................"Just as the film “Jurassic Park” skipped over the difficulties in turning ancient DNA into living organisms, modern fantasies about riding extinct elephants to work “Flintstones”-style have overlooked the extremely complicated nature of trying to re-create what has been lost"................"Can genetic innovation return us to lost worlds?".............."The answer, for the most part, is no"...........And even if we could bring back those that we have lost, is the human animal prepared to share enough open space with them, tolerating their presence??????

The New Science of De-extinction

Could scientists bring back Tyrannosaurus, king of the dinosaurs, or the king of the birds, the dodo? And what about the King himself, Elvis Presley? Brian Switek reviews “Bring Back the King” by Helen Pilcher.

A diorama of a woolly mammoth at the Royal British Columbia
Mammoths went extinct practically yesterday. This might not seem to be the case in the context of a human life span—the last of the woollies perished on an island north of Siberia around 4,000 years ago—but from the perspective of all Earth’s history we’re living on a planet with a mammoth-shaped hole in it. As Helen Pilcher explains in “Bring Back the King: The New Science of De-Extinction,” some researchers want to change that
Almost every new mammoth discovery raises questions of cloning. In 2013, for example, Russian researchers presented an incredibly well-preserved mammoth found on the Lyakhovsky Islands off the Siberian coast, intact down to what was later confirmed to be degraded blood running from the thawing carcass. Blaring headlines touted not what the specimen could tell us about an extinct species but how we’d soon all be lining up to see resurrected mammoths at the zoo. But just as “Jurassic Park” skipped over the difficulties in turning ancient DNA into living organisms, modern fantasies about riding extinct elephants to work “Flintstones”-style have overlooked the extremely complicated nature of trying to re-create what has been lost.

Ivory Billed Woodpecker

The push for de-extinction, Ms. Pilcher says, is going on at various labs all over the world and is focused on everything from gastric-brooding frogs that incubate their young in their stomachs (and went extinct only some 30 years ago) to the passenger pigeon and, of course, our favorite shaggy Ice Age beast. Chapter by chapter she presents a short roll call of creatures that have been name-dropped as candidates for de-extinction, with a few extra centered on various prominent “King” species (“King of the Cavemen,” “King of the Birds” and so on). Celebrity is important here. De-extinction advocates are savvy marketers and know that any animal worth putting their effort into “has to be a well-known, larger than life showstopper,” as Ms. Pilcher writes. So, then, could scientists bring back Tyrannosaurus, king of the dinosaurs, or, in Ms. Pilcher’s pick for king of the birds, the dodo? And what about the King himself, Elvis Presley? Can genetic innovation return us to lost worlds, be they the Cretaceous or Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” heyday?

The answer, for the most part, is “no.” While Ms. Pilcher, a former reporter for Nature magazine, frames herself as an optimist and praises the persistence of de-extinction advocates “in the face of sceptics and critics who say de-extinction either can’t or shouldn’t be done,” she admits, by the end of the book, that almost all the charismatic fauna that have made her list cannot or should not be brought back. There is no hope of recovering any DNA from Tyrannosaurus, so the king of the tyrant lizards will never have a chance to chomp us. Every living species of elephant is endangered, making any breeding program planning on using them to re-create woolly mammoths—and not living species—a non-starter. The ethical considerations of cloning Elvis or, reaching back further, a Neanderthal rule out those two as possibilities as well. Once we reach beyond the realm of technology into the ethics of conservation, de-extinction falters

Passenger Pigeon

Not to mention that de-extinction is a bit of a misnomer to start with. The effort largely treats organisms as bags of genes. Approximate the genome, the pitch goes, and you have the species back good as new. But the fundamentals of biology show us that that isn’t true. Organisms are interactions between genes and environment. A woolly mammoth is not simply a readout of its genome. It is a social animal that relies on other mammoths for everything from the specialized, plant-grinding bacteria in its gut to its behavior. Without a herd, it’s not a mammoth.
Even if we ignore this—following the “if it walks like a mammoth and looks like a mammoth” rule—the fact is that the world is still hostile to many of the most-promoted candidates for de-extinction. Human-caused global warming is thawing the Arctic so fast that suitable habitat for mammoths is shrinking daily, not to mention that re-created mammoths would be menaced by the market for ivory that has almost eradicated modern elephants. Another de-extinction favorite, the passenger pigeon, was hunted to extinction and thrived in a time before the fragmentation of forests in the eastern U.S. by towns. Revived Neanderthals, if they ever were to exist, probably wouldn’t have to worry about being hunted, but given how merciless we can be to members of our own species, I shudder to think how we would treat a different species of human.

Jamaican Monkey

Ms. Pilcher highlights these weaknesses of de-extinction as she goes, but in the final trio of chapters she shows the unrealized potential of these efforts. Thought experiments about how to create clouds of passenger pigeons over Pennsylvania or mammoths digging their tusks through Yukon snow raise possibilities for imperiled animals that are today hanging on by the barest claw, such as the white rhino and the black-footed ferret. The focus of research can be rescue rather than resurrection. Watching a dodo 2.0 strut around a lonely aviary will not be a victory for conservation, but finding faster, better ways to shore up our world’s failing biodiversity will be.
The bulk of “Bring Back the King” is a friendly tour of genetics and cloning, with a bit of history thrown in. Even if de-extinction turns out to be unlikely or impossible for almost every species on Ms. Pilcher’s list, understanding how researchers might achieve the goal nevertheless provides a crash course on research at the frontiers of genetic modification. The question is whether this field will thrive or itself go extinct. In a pun characteristic of the book’s style, de-extinction efforts are said to be “embryonic.” This makes “Bring Back the King” something of a time capsule. Will some of the barriers that constrain de-extinction eventually be overcome? Will the field change course to focus on the living rather than the dead?
Like it or not, we are changing nature every day. We have shaped the planet more than any species before us, and uniquely we can look ahead to the world we want to see. As Ms. Pilcher reminds us, “It’s up to us to decide what happens next” and who will join us.

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