De-extinction as Artificial Species Selection
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This paper offers a paleobiological perspective on the debate concerning the possible use of biotechnology to bring back extinct species. One lesson from paleobiology is that extinction selectivity matters in addition to extinction rates and extinction magnitude. Combining some of Darwin’s insights about artificial selection with the theory of species selection that paleobiologists developed in the 1970s and 1980s provides a useful context for thinking about de-extinction. Using recent work on the prioritization of candidate species for de-extinction as a test case, the paper argues that de-extinction would be a form of artificial species selection in which humans influence which species persist vs. go extinct. This points to a serious gap in our ethical theory: Much work has been done to clarify the value(s) of biological diversity, but we also need theoretical guidance for decisions that amount to species sorting, and that will shape the macroevolutionary future.
KeywordsArtificial selection Conservation paleobiology De-extinction Extinction selectivity Macroevolution Resurrection biology Species selection
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the ISHPSSB meeting in Montreal, Canada, in July 2015. I am very grateful to colleagues at that meeting (especially Leonard Finkelman, Markku Oksanen, and Helena Siipi) for their ideas and critical feedback. The paper has also benefitted from helpful comments from Russell Powell, as well as two anonymous referees for this journal.
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