By John Kerr 11/05/2017


If we could resurrect an extinct species like the moa or the mammoth, how would it fare out in the big bad world?

This week the journal Functional Ecology published a special feature series on the ecology of de-extinction, including a number of articles by New Zealand authors.

Sciblogs has dived into the de-extinction discussion with a special miniseries on de-extinction featuring posts from some of the Functional Ecology authors as well as regular Scibloggers.  Here’s a run-down of the posts:

De-extinction: the devil is in the details

Prof Phil Seddon from Otago University, the guest editor behind the Functional Ecology feature, kicks off with a post acknowledging the realities and difficulties of resurrecting an extinct species.

“Trouble is, even for species that have only recently disappeared from parts of their range, reintroduction success is not guaranteed, In fact, historically, reintroduction success rates have been disappointingly low due to the considerable challenges involved.”


Conservation genetics of de-extinction: a primer

Canterbury’s Dr Tammy Steeves outlines the numerous genetic bottlenecks that an extinct species must be squeezed through to make it back to the land of the living. And if there isn’t enough genetic diversity in a resurrected population it could get sucked back into the ‘re-extinction vortex’, she warns.

“For conservation geneticists, the ultimate goal is to minimise the loss of genetic diversity in small isolated populations because, all else being equal, the more genetic diversity a threatened species has, the more likely it is that it will be able to adapt to a changing environment.”


Exploring the past to understand the ecological requirements of de-extinction candidate species

de-extinctionNext up, Landcare Research Palaeoecologist Dr Jamie Wood explains – using the moa as an example –  how we’ll need to reconstruct the diet, habitat and even gut bacteria of de-extinction candidates if we are serious about their survival. Who you gonna call? Palaeoecologists, that’s who.

“As technologies progress towards making de-extinction a reality, the insights gained through palaeoecological studies may play an important role in helping guide and inform the selection of suitable de-extinction candidates.”


Step 5, release your mammoth: NZ scientists tackle de-extinction consequences

De-extinctionConservation Sciblogger Dr Helen Taylor wraps it all up with a post on her Wild Science blog offering a bit of NZ context and lauding the special feature authors for tackling the ecological question of what happens after you resurrect a species – when you ‘release your mammoth’.

“Interestingly, almost all the conversation and research around de-extinction focuses on how we can bring these creatures back. The science of de-extinction gives little consideration to what happens after that is achieved, but the conservation implications are huge.”


You can read more about the Functional Ecology special feature on Scimex.org

Featured image: Flickr / Patrick Bürgler