Research dollars flow to endangered species

It appears researchers now have 10,000 more species of birds to study. (Contributed photo)

I was in college studying mammalogy, ornithology and fish sciences a few years before the Endangered Species Act was passed. Back then, we studied mostly game birds and game animals with a few locally abundant non-game species included.

Why the emphasis on game species? Because prior to the ESA, few animal species with little monetary value to humans – particularly smaller sized animals, hard-to-see animals or animals living in remote areas – received much attention from researchers.

Other than mammalogists acknowledging there was such a creature as a pygmy shrew, in-depth studies into the lives and loves of shrews were few. Not that somewhere some tiny-animal-loving biologist wouldn’t have loved getting up close and personal with these tiny little predators, but who would foot the bill for such analysis?

Valuable animals got the attention. Valuable animals at the time included mostly large animals (because they are easy to see), game animals (because hunters buy licenses and gear to hunt them), and large animals with the potential of becoming game animals (the best of both criteria).

Soon after the ESA was passed, researchers argued and courts agreed that, to coin the phrase, all animals are created equal.

The monetary value of an animal was no longer a criteria used to determine its worth to the world. A mouse or minnow had the same value as a moose or muskie.

Researchers learned if they could search out and study potentially endangered species,  dollars began to flow their way. I’m not trying to debate the relative values of ermine or eagles. I’m just pointing out that, as more potentially endangered species are noted, the better it is for animal researchers.

I’ve assumed this for years, but a recent assertion by a researcher from American Museum of Natural History in New York City made me even more sure. George Barrowclough, an associate of the museum, penned a study claiming the number of species of birds in the world, accepted widely to be about 10,000, is actually closer to 20,000.

What a breakthrough! If true, that means half the species of birds in the world are yet to be discovered and more research dollars for funding search-and-rescue missions for these variant species are needed.

Perhaps one of them will prove to be of great value.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *