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Jan 09 2012

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: a metazoan miscellany

Mary was pretty insistent that I had to show you this video — it’s what the Monday Metazoan is all about. You might also want to see the higher quality video at NatGeo.

(Also on Sb)

31 comments

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  1. 1
    shouldbeworking

    Wow. The only good thing about Monday mornings are Mary’s Metazoa.

  2. 2
    jean-denismuys

    Wow. Apple’s influence on culture and society is far reaching indeed…

  3. 3
    Gregory Greenwood

    Nature certainly is amazing, for all our ongoing attempts to destroy it.

    While watching that video, a thought occured to me – the way we are going, we may soon need to add our own species to the list of the endangered, and I got to thinking about what mankind’s epitaph might be. Sadly, I think that:-

    “Here lies humanity; killed by its own greed, short-sightedness and stupidity.”

    Might be appropriate.

  4. 4
    Island Adolescent

    At 7 billion and counting, one of the last things we need to think about is throwing our name on the endangered list.

    And the already mentioned Apple influence really made this hard to enjoy. The music just feels like a cheap attempt at selling me some product I don’t need; I muted it to enjoy looking at the (rather limited selection) of forms that I think would have been much more impressive with a fitting background.

  5. 5
    Eric Walten

    I’m currently reading the book “Plastic Panda’s” by the Dutch philosopher Bas Haring, in which he asks why it would be bad if species disappear. While the death of individual animals might be a tragedy because of the suffering of the animal, no such argument applies to species since species don’t have feelings. Why then is it bad if species go extinct? Why is ‘more species’ equated with ‘better nature’?

  6. 6
    Glen Davidson

    Most of the ones going extinct aren’t anywhere near to being so photogenic as those, though. Some ol’ bug, or something.

    Most won’t be much missed by us, but the ecosystems may, or, indeed, the ecosystems might not be so much stressed by their disappearance as their disappearance will indicate the degradation of ecosystems.

    Glen Davidson

    <

  7. 7
    humanape

    Here in south Florida we are trying hard to save endangered sea turtles. We turn off all lights facing the ocean during turtle nesting season so that baby turtles can find their way to the sea. We encourage our tourists to keep their distance from sea turtles coming to the beach to lay eggs so they don’t become frightened and lose their eggs in the ocean.

    Our human ape population is growing rapidly and crowding out other species. The worst problem are the millions of assholes who don’t care. They belong in prison.

    Every human ape has the moral responsibility to do everything possible to save species threatened with extinction.

  8. 8
    Mr. Fire

    Every human ape has the moral responsibility to do everything possible to save species threatened with extinction.

    Would you kindly lead the way by donating your otherwise worthless carcass to a group of endangered and hungry tigers?

  9. 9
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @5.Eric Walten : 9 January 2012 at 10:05 am

    Why then is it bad if species go extinct? Why is ‘more species’ equated with ‘better nature’?

    Because the loss of each species leaves us the poorer without one unique species that used to be in it.

    Because once a species is gone it is gone forever. (Yeah, we *may* one day be able to bring some back possibly via technmology – or will we really? Never been done.)

    Because we (or our friends and family) have children, grandchildren and great-children that will be missing out, do we really want to leave the world worse than we found it?

    Because each species is a strand in the ecological web and affects others – and once you’ve lost one you’ve put a hole in that ecological web – a hole that might grow & keep growing.

    Because in studying the endangered species we may find a better understanding of many things, even who knows a cure for cancer or other diseases?

    Because driving other species into extinction is intriniscally unethical just as deliberatley inflicting suffering upon others without good reason or their consent is unethical?

  10. 10
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    PS. Hmm .. I “liked” this on facebook but can’t seem to share it to there from here. Do I have to just cut’n’paste link or is there another button somewhere to do that ?

  11. 11
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ Mr Fire : Yeah, I’m happy to do that.

    Once I’m dead natch!

    (Planning on a Buddhist / Farsi “sky funeral” for myself eventually ie. cut me up and feed me to the vultures. Tigers would do nicely as well. String my lifeless body up on a flying fox at the zoo and let them get it. Fine by me & no doubt entertaining for the crowd as well as good tucker for the big cats.

    It’s a win:win as long as they make sure I’m (naturally) dead first!

  12. 12
    Mr. Fire

    Why then is it bad if species go extinct? Why is ‘more species’ equated with ‘better nature’?

    Because Strawmansis egregious feeds a diverse range of shitty arguments. You gotta think about the fallacy ecosystem as a whole.

  13. 13
    chigau (違う)

    Why then is it bad if species go extinct? Why is ‘more species’ equated with ‘better nature’?

    Complex ecosystems are more resilient than simple ones.

  14. 14
    Mr. Fire

    @ Mr Fire : Yeah, I’m happy to do that.

    Once I’m dead natch!

    Hah! Just to be clear, Steve: while you surely have many years of wonderful things to give the world ahead of you, in humanape’s case, a future as tiger chum really does represent a high water wark.

  15. 15
    Eric Walten

    @9 StevoR

    None of those arguments are really compelling to me though.

    - Leaving us ‘poorer’ is just a rephrasing of ‘worse’. Explain to me how are we poorer? You seem to define ‘many species’ as ‘rich’; what if someone measures richness by the total mass of nature?

    - Gone forever, indeed. But why is it bad that it’s gone?

    - Children missing out, I’m not sure if that’s the case. Many people who go out and enjoy “nature” – and I do mean really enjoy the outdoors, feeling happy about it – will be, in Europe at least, in a radically different landscape than several hundred years ago. Are they worse off because they’re enjoying different nature?

    - A hole the ecological web might grow and keep growing; on the other hand, it might be filled by some other species, perhaps even a new species. Given the record of life on Earth, I believe the latter to be more likely.

    - Perhaps finding something pharmalogical useful is a good argument, but it has to be balanced against other useful things – such as growing food for an increasing population. How much of the Earth’s surface should we reserve for such not-yet-found-and-perhaps-not-even-existing things? Would a possible positive effect weigh up against mass-starvation?

    - The suffering argument is something I brought up in my first comment. Species don’t suffer, individual animals do. I agree suffering is bad and should be prevented, but if the last animals of a species die of old age after a long life, I won’t weep for them. They won’t know their species dies with them.

    @13 chigau

    - In general complex ecosystems are more resilient than simple ones, I agree. But when is an ecosystem ‘simple’ and when is it ‘complex’? Might there not be a point where increased complexity doesn’t add a whole lot? Not knowing where the cutoff point is, is a reason to be careful with ecosystems, but is not a reason to prevent every decrease in complixity at all cost.

  16. 16
    Gregory Greenwood

    maratkhramov @ 4;

    At 7 billion and counting, one of the last things we need to think about is throwing our name on the endangered list.

    It was a figure of speech, not a serious suggestion.

    That said, we would not be the only species in history to over-exploit its environment and resources, achieve a critical mass of overpopulation, and then experience a cataclysmic population crash. Of course, being a technological civilisation, we are able to degrade our environment far faster and more completely then other species, but we are yet to see if technology can do much to mitigate the severity of a population crash. Given the horrifying famines that afflict so many parts of the world today, the outlook is not exactly rosy…

    Overpopulation and the massive strain it places on finite resources is arguably the single greatest threat to the long term survival of our species. Resource wars over potable water and arable land already occur in some parts of the world, and will likely only grow in severity over the course of this century.

    Just because there a lot of us, don’t assume that our excistence is not precarious.

  17. 17
    Grimalkin

    Before I get too worked up over 100 species going extinct every day, I’d like to hear how many new species arise daily.

    Extinction is a part of nature. We certainly don’t have the same ecosystem we did millions of years ago, anyways, but I wouldn’t call that a bad thing.

  18. 18
    w00dview

    @ Eric Walten & Grimalkin

    So what is your solution to this problem then? Keep destroying habitats and if they survive and evolve; great and if not; meh?

    Also just because extinction is natural does not mean we should encourage it. This is a textbook example of the argument from nature fallacy. Extinction today is happening at a far faster rate than new species evolving to replace the ones lost. Also why would anyone argue in favour of impoverished biodiversity?

    Even if we do not know the full benefits of keeping a complex ecosystem intact, it would be the height of foolishness to throw away possible cures for diseases, and sources for new materials just because there might NOT be anything useful there. So one should think of preserving biodiversity as an insurance policy for potential solutions to problems in the future.

  19. 19
    Grimalkin

    Because of course, a decent bit of skepticism is equal to “LET’S KILL ALL THE ANIMALS”

    I’m not for encouraging extinction, but I’m also not for discouraging naturally occuring extinction, nor for saying things like “100 species go extinct daily” without also supplying number of new species that arise daily, without supplying information about whether or not these species are going extinct due to no longer having a place in their ecosystem or due to human intervention, and whether or not these species caused problems in the ecosystem by going extinct.

    Information that you mentioned about species dying out faster than new species evolve is all I asked for. It was information left out in the video that is important. I never said anything like “meh, let’s kill the rainforests!” though. I didn’t notice Eric saying anything like that either- just that extinction isn’t necessarily something we need to demonize.

  20. 20
    Island Adolescent

    Gregory, a drastic decline in our number and everyone basically having to live in third world conditions won’t end our existence as a species.

    Just because we can easily suffer a massive population crash, that shouldn’t be equated to our entire species falling under the label known as “endangered”.

    It takes much more than that to wipe out a species stationed all over the world in nearly every terrestrial habitat imaginable.

  21. 21
    Francisco Bacopa

    Funny they should include so many species that are doing quite well. Three-banded armadillos? Not as common as nine-banded, but hardly at risk. Peregrine falcons? They live all over the world and have started living in cities to gain access to the avian vermin that breed in our cities. Even bald eagles are making a comeback.

    Why no clouded leopards or prairie chickens? These critters really are on the way to destruction if something isn’t done soon.

  22. 22
    w00dview

    @ Grimalkin

    First off, apologies if I attributed positions to you that you did not possess. I guess I misinterpreted your comment as apathy and I just blurted out that reply. I guess I thought you were using “extinction is natural” as an excuse to continue unsustainable habitat destruction and to not bother fixing things. It was kneejerk of me to assume so and I’m sorry.

    Your question is not so easy to answer, however. If there is significant human disturbance happening in one area and a species goes extinct there, how do you determine if the disappearance was natural or man made? There would be a number of variables to look at such as what disturbance is happening in that area, what niche the species occupies and if those two particular factors (nature of disturbance and niche) come into contact in that particular area all that often. Be aware that sometimes the factor that threatens species is not always immediately obvious such as DDT weakening the eggshells of birds of prey. Point, I’m making is that determining the nature of extinctions is complex and it can be hard to entangle the natural factors from the man made at times.

    Regardless of natural extinctions occuring in this modern era, it would be tough to say how common they arise. To see if such events happen, you would need to study in protected areas where habitats are left largely unaltered. I’m no ecologist myself and I don’t know if natural extinctions have been observed in these areas. I guess it could make an interest future study.

    Writing this comment has reminded me of an article Carl Zimmer wrote about introduced species that many here should find interesting:

    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/alien_species_reconsidered_finding_a_value_in_non-natives/2373/

    It certainly shows that nature can certainly be complex and unpredictable. Fascinating stuff.

  23. 23
    Alex

    I really like the video, I especially <3 the armadillo-like critter. But the horror! This generic wannabe minimal music blather, tantamount to an sentimentality-inducing aural suppository with extra sugar and cream, so makes we want to barf that it ruins the whole for me completely. The horror started with the 'I take a picture of me every day until I rot' video soundtrack, and is still haunting youtube today.

  24. 24
    Tethys

    Information that you mentioned about species dying out faster than new species evolve is all I asked for.

    New species cannot evolve if they lack sufficient genetic diversity to support a viable breeding population.

    The economics of diverse ecosystems with intact populations is well addressed by this TED talk. Intact ecosystems can support exponentially more life than degraded ecosystems.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/enric_sala.html

  25. 25
    Eric Walten

    @18. w00dview

    So what is your solution to this problem then?

    I’m wondering why extinctions are considered to be a problem. Animals or plants don’t know they’re going extinct, so it isn’t a problem for them. (As I said before, an animal suffering is a bad thing; an animal dying of old age without any offspring not so much.)
    Apparently it is a problem for us. The only reasonably compelling argument seems to be that some species might possibly be useful to us in the future. But then I wonder, how does such a possibility compare to the more predictable results from repurposing a habitat (for agriculture or tourism, for instance)?

    Also why would anyone argue in favour of impoverished biodiversity?

    Because ‘biodiversity’ is vague. Biodiversity can decrease globally (less total species) while increasing locally (remaining species spread over a larger area). Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If there’s an isolated island and two species are introduced which drives off one indigenous species, are you happy because biodiversity has increased?

  26. 26
    Gregory Greenwood

    maratkhramov @ 20;

    Gregory, a drastic decline in our number and everyone basically having to live in third world conditions won’t end our existence as a species.

    Fair point. In the short to medium term, this scenario is the most likely outcome if we don’t get our act together, but our actions today will have very long reaching effects, and the further into the long term we head, the more likley that something we do today may contribute to a situation that may present an existential threat to our species.

    As widespread as we are, it would take a lot to wipe us out, but it is not impossible. The planet has a history of mass extinction events, and I don’t think we should be undertaking actions that might trigger another one.

    Just because we can easily suffer a massive population crash, that shouldn’t be equated to our entire species falling under the label known as “endangered”.

    I have already said that the term was employed as a figure of speech, but I accept that my use of language was sloppy. Our literal extinction is, as you say, unlikley, but massive loss of life and a terrible reduction of the quality of life of our descendants is a very real threat. It is avoidable, but our leaders seem more interested in profit today rather than securing the welbeing of humanity tommorrow.

    It takes much more than that to wipe out a species stationed all over the world in nearly every terrestrial habitat imaginable.

    True, but just humour me for a moment. Say that there are resource wars in the future – we have seen how prepared our leaders are to kill by proxy for oil, including the loss of vast numbers of civilian lives. Now, oil is valuable, but you can live without it. How much more savage would a war be if it was fought over something a society can’t survive without, like food or water. In such a situation, where it is possible that to lose is to face the destruction of your entire culture through starvation or drought, how much more likely is it that someone might be tempted to do the currently unthinkable, and push the metaphorical button? Bearing in mind that every year brings ever greater nuclear proliferation, and thus more fingers on those buttons?

    The level of instability caused by our irresponsible actions today in regard to AGW and species loss may have all manner of serious reprecussion far beyond the immediate effects of crop failure and food crises. You are right that our species will probably survive almost anything, even if only as scattered pockets of survivors, but will it do so in a state that we would want to live in?

  27. 27
    Tethys

    Eric Walten

    The only reasonably compelling argument seems to be that some species might possibly be useful to us in the future.

    This comment is stupid on so many levels. Humans are not the most important species on this planet. Species diversity is an indicator of health in the overall environment and humans are only a part of the environment. Go watch the TED talk posted above.

    Because ‘biodiversity’ is vague. Biodiversity can decrease globally (less total species) while increasing locally (remaining species spread over a larger area).

    Your understanding of biodiversity is vague. Fewer species means there is less biodiversity, regardless of the area occupied.

    If there’s an isolated island and two species are introduced which drives off one indigenous species, are you happy because biodiversity has increased?

    3-1=2 Biodiversity has decreased. 2 is less than 3.
    *eyeroll*

  28. 28
    SallyStrange

    A lot of people need a primer on ecosystem services. And how ecosystems work.

  29. 29
    a3kr0n

    Is it possible all those animals on the video were computer generated? There’s just something about them that makes me think so. They’re the best I’ve ever seen though.

  30. 30
    Eric Walten

    @27. Tethys

    The comment may be stupid, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s the only reasonably compelling argument for saving as many species as possible I’ve heard so far. I’m open for arguments though.

    The video is nice; it doesn’t address species going extinct though so much as ‘strip-mining’ the ocean. I don’t recall arguing for the wanton destruction of habitats (not without replacing it for another habitat, at least).

    Your comment that “species diversity is an indicator of health in the overall environment and humans are only a part of the environment” is exactly why I asked the question about the species replacing another species on an island.

    I understand from your reaction that every species is as valuable as any other species, regardless of the area they occupy. I question whether that is the case. If biodiversity is always looked at globally – as I understand from your reaction – than certainly the absence or presence of a species occupying a small island won’t affect the “overall environment”?

    As I said before, I agree that biodiversity is a good thing; what I’m wondering though is at what level does biodiversity become too low? It seems every single extinction is treated as a disaster for biodiversity. I don’t think that’s the case. For instance, I think a species occupying a large area going extinct is worse than a species occupying only a small area going extinct. I think a species performing a unique and essential ‘role’ (if one can say species perform ‘roles’) going extinct is worse than a easily replacable (‘role’-wise) species going extinct.

    Am I a bad person because of this? Does it make me a speciesist? You tell me.

    Again, I’m open for arguments as to why my reasoning is wrong. (Note I personally don’t consider “stupid” and “eyeroll” arguments, but you are welcome to contribute at whatever level you feel comfortable at.)

  31. 31
    w00dview

    @30 Eric walten

    Your query about which species can be easily replaced or not can be tricky to answer because they are still areas of the planet where very little is known of the ecosystems and the wildlife within them such as the rainforests of Papua New Guinea or the deep sea. Most biologists don’t know the sheer amount of species that exist in such places and what roles they play in the overall ecosystem. So while we are trying to figure these complex places out, the more data we can acquire to what lives there and what it does and how it affects the area around it is necessary to obtain so we can get a good idea of what exactly we are going to lose. And that includes studying if a more common species can fill a similar ecological niche to the one that is endangered.

    My view is try to preserve as much as possible because it is better to have an ecosystem at its maximum productivity than one where it is depleted and of no use to either man or animal. I think of it as an insurance policy really. I also don’t think we have any right to decide which species is okay to go extinct and which ones are not. Obviously termites play a bigger role in maintaining ecosystems than gorillas but I think it would be irresponsible of us to allow either to die out. Not to mention even species that look “useless” can have big effects on the ecology of an area and even human health such as the case of the Western Fence lizard in California.

    http://www.calacademy.org/science_now/archive/wild_lives/fence_lizards_050601.php

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