July 25, 2011
Conservation programs that perform captive breeding for endangered animals – like the Duke Lemur Center – face a difficult choice when choosing pairs to breed.
DNA analysis suggests that some populations of rare animals which have been isolated from one another by fragmented habitat may in fact be distinct sub-species. If they've been separated long enough without mating opportunities, their genomes have evolved subtle differences.
On the one hand, some conservationists argue that breeding programs ought to preserve those differences by avoiding mixing animals from different areas.
But on the other hand, there may not be enough captive animals in any one of these substrains to maintain that kind of purity without in-breeding the captive animals. And soon, there may not be enough of them in the wild either.
What to do?
Some of the difficulty comes from the way different branches of biology think about species, Porton said. "Little did I know, there are actually 26 definitions for species!" But this isn't just an academic exercise; the crisis in lemur habitat is real and growing worse every day. "We don't have a lot of time to deal with this. Every animal is drastically important."
The drive for keeping subspecies distinct "comes from a good place," said Duke Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder. But it may not be in the best interest of the bigger picture of species preservation.
Participants in the two-day meeting of the MFG being held at Duke this week agreed that they'll probably need at least a political consensus in the absence of a scientific one.
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