‘If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering’.
Aldo Leopold, Round River, 1953
A large proportion of research and financial support for conservation is directed towards ‘charismatic’ species. Most often, these are large mammals, such as tigers, rhinos, elephants, pandas and so on; some bird species also fall under this banner. Much less likely to be regarded in this way are amphibians and reptiles and, less likely again, fish, invertebrates and plants. For those who work in invertebrate conservation, this has been referred to as ‘entomological lament’—the lack of recognition and attention lavished on such species and their ambassadors.
While charismatic species can be used to mobilise the public and policy makers and thus investment of resources in conservation, these strategies do not necessarily focus on those that are most threatened, or those where funds can be most effectively spent, nor, for that matter, keystone species (those which play a critical role in maintaining the ‘ecological status quo’). Therefore, the merits (and potential diversion of resources) of such strategies are sometimes questioned.
Our goal is to investigate further the different methods of prioritising species for conservation and to highlight the gaps in species based conservation approaches. We pay particular attention to evolutionarily unique species (see our work with EDGE) or ones whose loss signals the collapse of ecosystems (see our support for the Amphibian Survival Alliance).
Furthermore, we are interested in looking at species caught in the cross-fire of resource-driven conflict, or driven to the brink of extinction by unsustainable land-use change or direct exploitation. Our projects allow us to intervene at different stages of species loss, and to understand the impact of different conservation approaches. We also pay attention to geographical areas where there is dire need for intervention – particularly where these tie in with development priorities.