Hidden diversity: the old story, we’re loosing it quicker than we can identify it.

It’s been the mantra of many a Conservation NGO as they scoop up selected taxonomists and rush to survey yet another ‘biodiversity hotspot’ in the hope that media attention and a few scientific publications can fend off  urban encroachment, agricultural or mineral development. A quick look at the remaining wilderness areas of the tropics might suggest this approach is failing to stem the losses. 

Population pressure and the economics of development and growth, especially in the current financial climate, rule all. Yet the stories keep rolling in.

The team of keen young conservationists and primatologists I had the pleasure of working with in Sri Lanka in 2008 and 2009 have been paying a lot of attention to the finer points of slender loris morphology and molecular ecology. These little nocturnal predatory primates are thought-provoking beasts. In many ways they’re probably very similar to our very own ancient ancestors.

juvenile Loris tardigradus, Sri lanka

A young red slender loris (Loris tardigradus) quietly cruising amongst the vegetation in search of prey

Amongst the forest fragments where the final populations of loris hang on amidst growing human population pressure for agricultural land, firewood and living space, the hidden depths of loris evolutionary processes are only just being examined. It’s early days for the loris research team but there may be several taxa within what was once thought to be the red slender loris. If the red slender loris was in trouble, then the cryptic taxa that this species may contain are in dire-straits.

red slender loris, loris tardigradus, Sri lanka

red slender loris, (Loris tardigradus) tucked quietly amongst the leaves

So is this a success story in the making or another documented failure of contemporary society to protect our only chance at a rich and sustainable future on this planet? Well like most things in life, it’s neither one nor the other, our knowledge grows but our ability to motivate society to respond is limited at best. For me it’s got to be a small step forward. The more we understand about what we’re losing the quicker we are likely to acknowledge that modern society and our economic behaviour needs to respond. However, from where I’m sitting, the prospect of a response that protects such threatened species and ecosystems now, ahead of the short-term interests of party politics and investors, is depressingly slim.  The most critical thing being that we continue to document and publicise the knowledge we gather and consequences of their loss.

~ by motolorax on November 5, 2012.

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