One simple change could help to protect newly-discovered species


Joey Eschrich

When scientists are discovering and identifying previously-unknown species in the wild, should they always take a specimen back with them to the lab for further study? No, argues Ben Minteer, a professor of conservation at ASU's School of Life Sciences and a senior sustainability scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.

Specifically, Minteer argues that when there is uncertainty about the size of the species' population, and good reason to believe that the population may be very small, alternative methods of documentation should be used in lieu of collecting a "voucher specimen," including high-resolution photography, audio recording and noninvasive DNA sampling (for example, via skin swabbing). One major concern with the traditional method of taking a specimen out of its natural habitat is that it might endanger the entire population, potentially compromising it and contributing to its extinction. In many cases, scientists just don't know the population size of newly-discovered and rare species.

To learn how the scientific community reacted to Minteer's article in the magazine Science (co-authored with ASU's James P. Collins and Karen E. Love, and Robert Puschendorf of Plymouth University), where he makes the same argument about the accidental discovery of the New Guinea big-eared bat, read the full article at Future Tense.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.