Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 857–882 | Cite as

Assisted Migration in Normative and Scientific Context

  • D. S. MaierEmail author
  • D. Simberloff
Review Paper


Assisted migration (AM), an ecosystem engineering technology, is receiving increasing attention and significant support as a means to save biodiversity in a changing climate. Few substantive, or not obviously deficient, reasons have been offered for why pursuing this conservation goal via these means might be good. Some proponents of AM, including those who identify themselves as “pragmatists,” even suggest there is little need for such argument. We survey the principal reasons offered for AM, as well as reasons offered for not offering reasons. As exemplified by the case for translocating whitebark pine, which may at first seem especially strong, we note the incongruence of framing the goal of AM in terms of “saving biodiversity,” neglect of some crucial moral questions, marginalization of normative and scientific context when AM is cast as the lesser of two evils in a “crisis,” doubtful validity and, in any case, marginal importance of arguments that AM projects ought to be undertaken, inconsistent use of scientific facts, and omission of science that counters sanguine assessments. All told—even in cases such as whitebark pine for which AM may seem most defensible—there is little reason to think that AM projects are good as means to “save biodiversity,” or good as means to other goals that have accreted into arguments for these projects.


Assisted migration Conservation Ecosystem engineering Biodiversity Climate Change Whitebark pine 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SebastopolUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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