Triage: Not all endangered species worth saving says scientist: cost-efficiency decisions needed
Posted by gmarkets on 17 October, 2007
Federation fellow Hugh Possingham had said throwing money and other resources at those plants and animals on the edge of oblivion was bad economics, wrote Brandan O’Keefe in The Australian (10/10/2007, p. 25).
More training in mathematics needed: Professor Possingham’s proposal had raised eyebrows at the inaugural University of Queensland Federation Fellows Public Lecture in Brisbane last month. He had told the audience his proposal represented “an unpalatable proof of triage; that is the highest risk species are not necessarily the species we work on. (It is) an economically rational allocation of funds to maximise final outcome given fixed resources.” Possingham had said the conservation industry did not have the training in applied maths and economics to make good decisions. Universities should offer masters in quantitative wildlife management, he had said. “It’s hard to convince people in first year that maths is relevant but by third year they realise that all of science is quantitative.”
Saving condor cost $US20 million: Possingham, professor of mathematics in the spatial ecology group at the University of Queensland, said: “The Californian condor has been recovered from the brink of extinction, but it cost $US1O million to $US20 million. That $20 million could have been used to secure large tracts of rainforest to save hundreds of species. We hand out our money to the species that are most likely to go extinct and we ignore the cost.” He said that took away the money that could be spent on others. “We spend a lot of money saving the basket cases but while you’re doing that all the things that aren’t basket cases become basket cases.”
Cost-efficiency decision: Possingham, whose background is in applied mathematics and biochemistry, said it was a cost-efficiency decision. Lose another species of beetle or grasshopper and the cost would be low. But the cassowary, the giant flightless bird of the far north Queensland rainforests, was worth saving. “If they go extinct, the forests of far north Queensland will change forever because the cassowaries disperse the seeds of a whole range of trees and they might diminish,” he said. “And for every tree, there’s probably 20 species of insect. It would cause an extinction cascade of 100 to 1000 other species.”
The Australian, 10/10/2007, p. 25