The value of ex situ collections for global biodiversity conservation in the wild
Citation:Mooney, Andrew, The value of ex situ collections for global biodiversity conservation in the wild, Trinity College Dublin.School of Natural Sciences, 2021
Andrew_Mooney_Thesis_Revised_TARA.pdf (PhD thesis, examined and approved) 6.360Mb
Despite the best efforts of conservation practitioners global biodiversity is continuing to decline. The role of zoos and aquariums in conserving global biodiversity ex situ has become increasingly important as more species become threatened with extinction. As ex situ conservation resources are limited, evidence-based decision making is required to identify, and prioritise, the management actions necessary to increase the potential of ex situ conservation efforts. The efficacy of ex situ conservation efforts is currently hindered by 1) entrenched taxonomic biases in collection planning and the prioritisation of large, charismatic vertebrates, 2) the unsustainability of ex situ populations due to limited space availability and management practices, and 3) limited considerations of the potential for ex situ collections to conserve and reintroduce genetic variation into populations using biological samples and advanced reproductive technologies. In this thesis I explore the multifaceted contribution of ex situ collections to global biodiversity conservation. I focus on the importance of standardised, globally shared ex situ records, and their potential to inform collection planning, population sustainability and genetic conservation decision-making. In Chapter 2 I addressed the taxonomic bias in collection planning and assessed the importance of large, charismatic vertebrates in driving both visitor attendance and fundraising for conservation in the wild. Using data from >450 zoological collections globally I identified a net positive effect of large charismatic vertebrates on both visitor attendance, and subsequently conservation fundraising. I also revealed that numerous other factors, such as species richness and species uniqueness, play equally important roles. I suggest that the taxonomic bias in collection planning is potentially an effective conservation strategy, but encourage a more creative approach to collection planning and an assessment of the conservation potential of traditionally non-charismatic species. In Chapter 3 I investigated the potential of globally shared zoological records to provide the management insights necessary to increase the sustainability of ex situ populations, utilising 753 ex situ flamingo (Phoenicopteridae) populations as a case study. I both confirm and contradict existing management guidelines, highlighting the potential of globally shared zoological records, and provide species-specific management recommendations to promote the sustainability of ex situ flamingo populations. In Chapters 4 and 5 I highlighted the role of ex situ collections in conserving the genetic diversity of living populations in gene banks, such as the San Diego Zoo Frozen Zoo?, and the potential of ex situ samples to contribute to future genetic rescue and de-extinction efforts. In Chapter 4 I revealed that 5.1% of all threatened amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile species are represented within the San Diego Zoo Frozen Zoo? and that further sampling from within the global zoo and aquarium community could increase this representation to 16.5%. I provide future sampling suggestions based on both sampling opportunities and existing conservation priorities. In Chapter 5 I addressed the taxonomic bias in de-extinction research and prioritised for de-extinction investigation the 122 species of recently extinct plants, incorporating both the feasibility and the probability of reintroduction success. I show that ex situ samples, such as herbarium specimens, are currently available for nearly all recently extinct plant species, each with the potential to provide seeds capable of germination. These studies highlight the importance of ex situ samples in conserving genetic diversity and their potential to reintroduce genetic variation into existing populations, enhancing ecosystem health and stability. This thesis illustrates the important conservation and management insights that can be derived from globally shared ex situ records, providing the recommendations necessary to increase the efficacy of global ex situ conservation efforts. The current rate of biodiversity loss suggests that the importance of ex situ conservation is only going to increase, however the limited resources available mean that evidence-based decision-making is necessary to ensure conservation opportunities are not overlooked and that existing strategies are effective in achieving their goals. This thesis demonstrates the multi-faceted contribution of ex situ collections to global biodiversity conservation and highlights their future potential, conserving not only individual species, but also ecosystems and the services vital to sustaining human civilisation.
Author: Mooney, Andrew
Publisher:Trinity College Dublin. School of Natural Sciences. Discipline of Zoology
Type of material:Thesis
Availability:Full text available