, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 167-195

Biodiversity, biological uncertainty, and setting conservation priorities

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Abstract

In a world of massive extinctions where not all taxa can be saved, how ought biologists to decide their preservation priorities? When biologists make recommendations regarding conservation, should their analyses be based on scientific criteria, on public or lay criteria, on economic or some other criteria? As a first step in answering this question, we examine the issue of whether biologists ought to try to save the endangered Florida panther, a well known “glamour” taxon. To evaluate the merits of panther preservation, we examine three important arguments of biologists who are skeptical about the desirability of panther preservation. These arguments are (1) that conservation dollars ought to be spent in more efficient ways than panther preservation; (2) that biologists and conservationists ought to work to preserve species before subspecies; and (3) that biologists and conservationists ought to work to save habitats before species or subspecies. We conclude that, although all three arguments are persuasive, none of them provides convincing grounds for foregoing panther preservation in favor of other, more scientifically significant conservation efforts. Our conclusion is based, in part, on the argument that biologists ought to employ ethical, as well as scientific, rationality in setting conservation priorities and that ethical rationality may provide persuasive grounds for preserving taxa that often are not viewed by biologists as of great importance.