What is the future of assisted migration in conservation? Revive & Restore’s Lead Scientist, Ben Novak, offers insight that fears of invasion are overblown.
Since the 1980s, scientists have debated the use of a specific type of conservation strategy called “assisted migration”, which aims to conserve species by moving them to climatically suitable places outside of the range that they currently or recently occupied. This strategy is based on the argument that habitat destruction makes it impossible for many species to keep pace with climate change, and that without human help those species could face extinction.
This year, the US Fish and Wildlife published its proposal to remove the words “historical range” from its regulations on experimental populations. The proposed rule drew more than 500 comments.
Many commenters echoed longstanding arguments against the use of assisted migration, suggesting that translocating species carried too much risk of unintended consequences. Yale Environment 360 journalist Zach St. George interviewed Revive & Restore’s Lead Scientist Ben Novak about fears around unintended consequences in conservation action.
Last year, Novak and his colleagues published a paper analyzing the purposeful translocations of more than 1,000 species in the U.S. over the last 125 years as part of conservation efforts. They found only one conservation translocation — an endangered fish named the Watercress Darter — that resulted in the loss of significant biodiversity.
”I actually think ecologists have a strong history of making predictions. We can do this well.Ben Novak, Lead Scientist at Revive & RestoreAs quoted in Yale E360
While translocated species have caused ecological disasters — as when people brought cane toads from Hawaii to Australia, for example, or introduced Indian mongooses to the West Indies — nearly all of those species were translocated for economic or cultural reasons, not as part of conservation efforts, Novak says.
About the Project
Since 2012, Revive & Restore has worked to advance active conservation strategies, including biobanking, cloning, and gene editing. In 2020, we helped create the world’s first cloned black-footed ferret, Elizabeth Ann. That same year, we helped create the world’s first cloned Przewalski’s horse, Kurt. Both Kurt and Elizabeth Ann highlight the genetic tools we explore to save endangered species globally.