Towards an “evocentric” view of conservation

Here is an interesting Paper of the Week from Sarrazin and Lecomte, published last week in Science. Titled Evolution in the Anthropocene, the article briefly considers including evolutionary processes in conservation, focusing in particular on the total evolutionary potential of all organisms on the planet, not just us, and not just those with immediate (or apparent) ecosystem-service value to us. Only a short article, it raises more issues than it can tackle, but it provides an interesting counter-point to the new utilitarianism so rife in much of contemporary conservation. The authors also argue that moving to conserve the planet for both the long-term benefits of humans and nature would represent a new “major transition in evolution” (sensu Szathmary and Maynard Smith), and I am not sure that they wouldn’t be right. The figure, copied below, captures the choices we face rather nicely. One to ponder.

K. Sutliff/Science

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