Biodiversity, extinction and climate change

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The previous thread turned into a discussion on how climate change might affect biodiversity. It started with Jeff Id’s taunt:

A warmer world will produce more food, biodiversity and a nice place for people and critters to live. Polar bears might be mad, but life is hard.

Aftersome back and forth’s, with e.g. Dave H noting the apparent disconnect between a strong focus on uncertainty and such a strong statement about positive effects, ecologist Jeff Harvey chimed in:

high temperatures are not a pre-requisite for high biodiversity

He points out that an important factor for maintaining high genetic and species richness is

stability – that is, that conditions in a region are not altered frequently by some important extrinsic challenge, such as rapid local climatic changes. (…)

the current rate of warming threatens to seriously undermine the functioning of biomes and ecosystems through uneven effects on species within tightly interacting food webs. (…)

Our species has simplified the planet biologically through the combined effects of paving, ploughing, damming, dredging. logging. slashing and burning, mining, dousing in synthetic pesticides, biologically homogenizing (e.g. through invasive species), altering the chemical composition of the air and water, and through various other forms of pollution. We know that genetic diversity is being lost at rates unseen in 65 million years, and against this background we are challenging an already impoverished fauna and flora to respond to climate changes that are unprecedented in perhaps tens of thousands of years.

Jeff Id replies:

I think like so many tied up in the eco-sciences you have blended too many causes and effects together to attribute the micro-warming to anything damaging to the ecosystem. (…)

my point is that over the next hundred years of warm weather, it would certainly result in higher planetary biomass all other effects unconsidered. Higher biomass eventually results in higher diversity. Warm in general is good for the planet, if you do it slowly enough and not too much of it.

How fast and how much, we could argue all day.

I tried condensing Harvey’s points thus:

- Biodiversity depends more strongly on the rate of change of climate than on the actual climatic state (i.e. whether “warm” or “cold”).

- That is consistent both with evidence from the past and with theoretical considerations

- Biodiversity is already being stressed (by multiple anthopogenic stressors, of which climate change is one), and this stress is likely to increase as (the rate of) climate change will increase. (i.e. future projected biodiversity loss is much stronger than current biodiversity loss)

Of course, it’s a bit more cpmplicated than that, as Harvey aludes to in his reply. Later on he notes that

The IUCN (…) does not classify a species as being ‘formally’ extinct until it has not been recorded in the wild for at least 50 years.

And on the current rate of extionction:

We KNOW that between 10 and 40% of well-known species (vascular plants and vertebrates) are threatened with extinction.

This is an area that don’t know much about, so I don’t have much to add. It’s a very important aspect though, especially when taking into account that projected future (rates of) warming are much stronger than what we’ve seen so far. Not to mention that once a species is lost, it’s lost practically forever. I would think that the rate of species loss can be much greater than the maximum rate of new species development (or creation if you wish ;-).  

References on biodiversity, extinction and climate change:

Extinction risks from climate change

Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity

Papers on ecosystem response to past climate change

Kate at Climatesight on extinction and climate

Association between global temperature and biodiversity, origination and extinction in the fossile record

Recommended reading by Jeff Harvey

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440 Responses to “Biodiversity, extinction and climate change”

  1. Sou Says:

    I would be interested in learning more about the weakest points in the chain when it comes to loss of biodiversity. Deforestation is obvious, as is the island effect preventing barriers to mobility. And the loss of species currently found only in a very small isolated pocket (for example, some plant and animal species are restricted to very small patches in the Australian Alps).

    Jeff Harvey referred to ‘tightly interacting food webs'; and Bernard J. discusses the separate issues facing homeotherms and poikilotherms – which from a food chain point of view I expect would overlap to some extent (eg birds that mainly eat reptiles).

    Plants / pollination is also of interest. A couple of years ago two shrubs in my garden blossomed twice in one year, apparently mistaking an extra warm autumn for spring. I’d expect the interaction between temperature and light /seasons and pollination to be impacted as climate changes.

    Anyway, just a few random thoughts before heading off to peruse the reading list suggested.

  2. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Ah, now we are getting somewhere. I have stirred the hornet’s nest.

    OK, lets concentrate on the 2006 article in Biotropica. This was clearly written before the massive droughts of 2005 and 2010 in Amazonia became manifest. In other words, the article assumes rather implicitly that the main driver of habitat destruction in tropical biomes will be due to direct deforestation, whilst excluding indirect effects as a result of climate change. The two huge droughts in the Amazon change the entire scenario. What they show is that a suite of factors will occur that exacerbate the current extinction spasm. If there is massive die-back of forests from continued seasonal droughts, then this will in the end overwhelm the direct effects of deforestation. The authors did not appear to factor this into their calculation, but it isn’t their fault – they did not have a crystal ball to be able to predict that there might be tipping points in the very near future beyond which other abiotic forces would come into play, mediated by such anthropogenic threats as climate change.

    The other problem is that estimating forest cover is a tricky business. Although the Amazon has only lost some 12-15% of its forests, much of what is left is secondary forest which is profoundly different from primary forest. There iks also the effects of fire regimes on micro-climates in the Amazon – when I flew over it in 2000 I saw tiny specks of flame covering vast expanses of forest, meaning that the lower vegetation cover had been removed in many places, leading to changes in micro-climate and making the forest more susceptible to future fires. Finally, there are the effects of ‘high-grade- logging, where a huge, emergent tree is chopped down and dragged through the forest creating all kinds of ‘collateral’ damage. If one factors thesed processes in, then the Amazon has had a bout 35% of the forest significantly altered by human actions. And of course, we now have to estimate the effects of any more massive droughts on the vitality and resilience of this vital forest ecosystem. A study by Jugudush Shukla and colleagues also estimated that we are approaching tipping points whereby the less of forest patches might eventually lead to a collapse in the transpiration of rainfall across the region ,meaning that the east-coastal Mata Atlantica forests will receive too little rainfall to maintain themselves. All of this suggests that there are a range of factors – in addition to direct forest felling – that imperil the future of tropical forests and their biodiversity. So the findings of the Biotropica study are already in trouble.

    It should also be pointed out that Fuller’s narrative fails to account for a massive array of biotic interactions that we now know are vital for maintaining the integrity of food webs, communities and ecoystems. Sou alludes to pollination above, but we know that the loss of only one species can be the death knell for hundreds of other species and thousands of ecological interactions that cumulatively regulate the functioning of ecosystems and maintain their resilience. Next week I will read the Biotropica study (I am in the process of preparing 4 manuscripts right now and I have 5 manuscripts to review) but I would like to point out that these kinds of studies are often descriptive and do not discuss the importance of ecological mechanisms that underpin system function.

    With respect to biodiversity hotspots, I was the editor at Nature who oversaw the seminal Myers et al. (2000) study which highlighted 28 hotspots occurring in a number of biogeographical realms that should be the focus of conservation efforts. At the same time, we also know that species diversity is not necessarily a pre-requsiite for maintaining healthy ecosystems, as there are systems in ostensibly species-poor biomes that do just fine. This area has been the subject of intense debate for over 30 years, since May’s 1973 article was published. More recently, it has been argued by the likes of McCann (1998) that more species-rich systems are likely to be more stable because they provide more networks linking various kinds of flows, and thus diffusing critical connections. McCann thus argues that the loss of one link is not necessarily serious because the system has many more connections. I tend to agree with this scenario, but I would like to add that the history of the system is also a vital component in understanding the effects of global changes. Species-poor systems can be resilient if the links are stronger when these links are more impervious to disturbance. This was also the subject of a Nature article that was published when I was an editor there.

    What I am saying is that descriptive studies are helpful but that we also need more mechanistic approaches to understanding the effects of deforestation and climate change effects on biodiversity. As I said yesterday, one might think that a road that bisects and intact forest that covers many thousands of hectares is not a problem, except that there are taxa- such as antbirds – that will not disperse over expanses of open ground even when they appear to us as minor. We also have to understand that important plant mutualists – like pollinators and seed dispersers – also will respond to habitat fragmentation of any kind. This is where population ecologists can provide valuable empirical data that will either support or refute the predictions of more descriptive studies like that in Biotropica.

    I also briefly alluded to some of the research done by colleagues in my Institute who have been studying a tri-trophic interaction involving trees, foliar-feeding caterpillars and Pied Flycatchers/Great tits over the past 15 years. We have a very strong network of volunteers in the Netherlands who have collected breeding data on migratory and resident songbirds over many years. The flycatchers are interesting in that they overwinter in central Africa and return to their breeding grounds in early April (males) and mid April (females). The early arrival of males enables them to compete with each other for access to territories, so by the time the females arrive this process has more-or-less been completed. The birds typically initiate migration northwards on the basis of the most reliable cues e.g. astronomical, and since temperature regimes in the equatorial areas have not markedly changes over the past 50 years, they generally initiate migration at the same time each year. The problem is that the breeding cycle of the birds is strongly co-ordinated with the abundance of caterpillars which serve as the main food for the birds. Because of climate warming, spring temperatures in much of northern Europe have increased meaning that the caterpillars and their main food plants (e.g. oak) are growing and becoming active earlier in the season. This has led to a mis-timing in the peak of caterpillar abundance and the main breeding period for the birds, such that caterpillars are becoming scarcer and scarcer when they are required as food for the flycatcher progeny. The females normally have pre-reproditive periods, but they are being forced to adjust this earlier and earlier in the season in response to the availability of the caterpillars. Recent declines in the abundance of the flycatchers are now attributed to this phenological mis-match. The most important point is that situations like this are probably being played out across temperate zones both in the Palearctic and Nearctic realms, but only a few systems are being properly studied and elucidated. Eric Post is finding similar happenings involving caribou and their food plants in Greenland. Declines in the abundance of a number of migratory songbirds in North America may also be due to this phenomenon.

    The bottom line is that biodiversity is in trouble, there is little doubt about that. And not just from climate change and habitat destruction and fragmentation, but from other threats that I alluded to yesterday. Quantifying the loss is a real challenge, given that we have only a rough idea (as Fuller correctly said) of how many species there actually are. But I want to make several final points. First, a species loses its ecological and economic value long before it becomes extinct. Relic populations may linger for a while, but they are among the ‘living dead’. Second, we must reconcile the loss of species richness with genetic richness. The loss of genetic diversity amongst species and populations (Hughes et al., 1998, Science) is of profound concern because genetic diversity is a pre-requisite to adaptation. And we know that genetically distinct populations are being extirpated at very high rates. Third, understanding extinction rates can only be fully appreciated in the context of understanding the roles that species play in the functioning of ecosystems. The disproportionate loss of keystone species – such as nutrient fixing bacteria, pollinators, seed dispersers, as well as others that maintain a strong link in communities (e.g. the heart-rot fungus keystone species complex) constitutes a vital blow to the resilience and stability of ecosystems. So the loss of a species per se must be weighed against its contribution to the system.

    I can suggest three books that would help to better understand these processes:

    1. Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Simon Levin (1999).
    2. The Work of Nature. Yvonne Baskin (2000).
    3. Nature’s Services. Gretchen Daily (1997).

    These three books (I reviewed Levin’s for Nature in 2000) will hep the reader to appreciate the importance of nature across a huge range of scales.

  3. Sou Says:

    Thank you for all this, Jeff. Given your comments above relating to burning of the understorey in the Amazon, if you have the time (and inclination), can you give your views – pros and cons – of prescribed burning in native forests more generally. Bearing in mind that forests in Australia are increasingly subject to large bushfires, mostly from electrical summer storms, and difficult to access.

    I’m not convinced the merits / demerits of prescribed burning have been fully explored (in south-easterm Australia at least); and there is a strong lobby in favour of it, to the extent that there are plans to burn large patches each year. This includes mallee scrub, alpine woodlands – dry sclerophyll forests and temperate rainforests. (The plans aren’t always fully implemented because weather conditions preclude burning some areas in any year.)

  4. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Hi Sou,

    Thanks for your feedback. Burning as a prescription for native forests has a lot of ‘contexts’ surrounding it. It must be remembered that many native forests in higher latitudes have co-evolved with fire that occurs regularly as a result of lightning strikes. Where this occurs, in principle I see nothing wrong with the restricted use of fire as a management tool, provided may precautions are taken. I am not a systems or forest ecologist and I would defer to their expertise on this matter. Where fire is a real hazard, though, is in systems that have no recent ecological history of fire. Some invasive species that are well adapted to fire regimes – such as invasive plants like cheatgrass and Melaleuca trees for example – have had remarkable and destructive impacts on native ecosystems in North America that are not adapted to fire. In fact, these plants can actually enhance fire risk during electrical storms because they are highly flammable and yet resistant to fire, being the first species to colonize and exploit recently burned sites. In doing so they out-compete native vegetation and thus simplify broad swathes of habitat whilst excluding native species from re-establishing themselves. This of course will greatly reduce local biodiversity because of the loss of more diverse plant communities and the species naturally associated with them. It also explains why invasive species are the second largest driver (after habitat destruction and fragmentation) of local extinctions.

    Now to Jeff Id’s comments. In my last post I described the phenological effects of warming on species interactions. As I said several times before, the ability of a species to thrive in its habitat(s) depends critically on interactions with other species. If these interactions, and especially strong ones, are disrupted, then this will affect the strength of the interaction and could reverberate through food webs. Warming will have different ecophysiological effects on different species. Some will respond positively, some will not respond at all and some will respond negatively. These effects will not necessary be synchronous amongst interacting species, and as I have said there is already a growing body of evidence showing this to be the case. If this scenario is a widespread phenomenon., then the prospects are not good.

    To suggest, as Jeff Id does, that warmer weather in the coming century will result in greater biomass is a profoundly simplistic statement. This is not necessarily true at all. Where will the extra biomass come from? Plant productivity depends a lot more than on temperature and C02. The soils in which they grow need to be conducive to growth, both biotically and abiotically, and primary production depends on an array of interactions with other mutualists and antagonists. If warmth was the main pre-requieite for diversity, then how does Jeff Id explain the fact that humans arrived on the scene as the dominant terrestrial animal at a time when the planet was probably richer biologically than at any previous time in Earth’s long history? (about 10,000 years ago). And, as I have also repeated time and again, increased C02 will have all kinds of effects that go beyond primary production. Many plant defense compounds are C-based, thus we can expect these plants to potentially become more toxic as they shunt the extra C to defense production. Plants with N-based defensive compounds may see a net reduction in the potency of their direct defenses. For most insect herbivores, C and P are also much more limiting than C for growth and reproduction. Several studies have already showed that under elevated C regimes the insects are forced to feed more to obtain the minimal amounts of N necessary for vital metabolic functions. There are many more effects of changes in environmental stoichiometry that I have previously discussed on the web site Deltoid.

    Lastly, and again as I discussed the other day, species have co-evolved with many biotic and abiotic processes over deep, evolutionary time, and these have determined the thermal requirements of the species and thus their broad geographical ranges. At the edge of a species’ range, conditions often become highly sub-optimal, meaning that they must expend more energy to survive and persist there. Rapid warming will undoubtedly force organisms to move polewards or to higher elevations, in order to maintain ranges optimal climate windows. But many species will encounter human-created barriers: large expanses of urban or agricultural landscapes that did not exist when there were previous rapid shifts in temperatures in the Earth’s past. Jeff Id appears to suggest that species and species interaction webs will adapt in situ to climate warming. Well, they won’t. And the more quickly these changes occur, the more we are challenging species and food webs to adapt. Most ecologists know that warming, in concert with other anthropogenic global changes, will exert a huge cost on biodiversity. This is exactly the conclusions drawn in studies by Thomas et al., Parmesan et al. etc. Many species will not be able to adapt to rapid warming against a canvas of already simplified ecosystems.

    Finally, one point in response to an earlier Fuller posting: the average life-span of a species depends on its phylogenetic history. Whereas the average ‘shelf-life’ of many insects is 1 to 10 million years, for many vertebrates, such as mammals like rodents, it is a lot less (e.g. 500,000 years). The best estimate amongst experts in the field is that extinction rates are at least 100, and perhaps more than 1,000, times higher than natural background rates, and certainly much higher than rates of speciation. This kind of extinction rate is clearly not sustainable. Furthermore, I note that Fuller appears to focus on absolute rates of extinction rather than on functional rates of extinction. What I mean by this is that certain species play more critical roles in the functioning of communities and ecosystem than other species. In theory, we could lose 50% of biodiversity and natural systems would still be able to function effectively (although they would be more prone to collapse and hence less resilient) whereas, in an alternate scenario, we could lose 5% of diversity and systems would collapse. The identity of the species under threat or lost from the system is also a vital pre-requisite in understanding the costs of losing biodiversity, because as we know well by now some species and species guilds are ‘keystones’ and provide vital contributions to maintaining the viability and integrity of these systems in which they are embedded. Again, this is why ecology depend on contributions from both systems ecologists who look at the properties of large-scale processes and population ecologists, who explore the contributions made by individuals and species. My research with insects is focused on the latter, although colleagues in our department also conduct research in systems ecology.

  5. Dana Says:

    I’ve never understood the simplistic ‘warmer is better’ argument. If that’s true, why aren’t deserts teeming with life? I’m no biologist either, but the stability argument is much more logical than the ‘warmer is better’ argument.

  6. Sou Says:

    This is a fascinating area and must be a joy to study (amid the concern at destruction and extinction). Another aspect is aquatic life and it’s interaction with land-based plant and animal life. I’m thinking here of waterways, which some local groups have engendered interest in, particularly among local schools – observing and monitoring water quality, insect life, crustaceans, fish, water plants etc.

    The increased CO2 will probably shape these in future, along with temperature changes. (Anyone who has maintained a fish tank knows that different aquatic plants respond variously to changed levels of CO2 and how different fish have greater or lesser sensitivity to pH and temperature – and observed algae response under a range of conditions.)

  7. Ron Broberg Says:

    Dr Harvey, any comments on this paper – either of the model or the prescriptive kills?

    Rescuing ecosystems from extinction cascades through compensatory perturbations

    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v2/n1/full/ncomms1163.html

  8. Sou Says:

    And this article suggests eating sardines and anchovies instead of tuna and other larger fish, to help stabilise sea fish populations.

    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/02/as-tuna-vanish-sardines-rise.html

  9. Tom Fuller Says:

    I think that recent efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change are important, but more because potential global warming can serve as a ‘last straw’ for certain portions of a beleaguered environment if it happens too fast.

    However, 99% of stress on environments has other causes, most man-made, and addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.

    The environment, as Jeff Id alluded to, has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.

    Just as the alarmists forget (functionally, when talking of impacts and mitigation) that the climate always changes, some participants in yesterday’s thread seemed determined to ignore that our biosphere constantly changes too. For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For some it will not. But that kind of lottery has been occurring for a couple of billion years.

    My main concern is exemplified by warmists hijacking iconic examples of negative effects caused by human activity and attributing the stress felt by or threats to, for example, polar bear populations and saying the major problem is global warming or climate disruption.

    Climate is disruptive. It always has been. But species either adapt to the changes or make way for others that can. Our contributions to the disruptive nature of climate will not be welcomed by some species. However global warming is the least of their worries now, and is likely to remain so for the next century.

    So how we use this century is critical. And my policy preferences are, just as with the human element affected by global warming, to make communities more resilient and able to withstand climate changes that we cannot control, to get off their backs with thoughtless development, pollution and dramatic changes in land use without environmental consideration.

  10. Bernard J. Says:

    I didn’t realise that Tom Fuller was an eminent ecologist as well as a world-renowned climatologist and a serious investigative journalist.

    Perhaps he could assuage some of the concerns of biologists that were listed here:

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/revkin-steig-o%e2%80%99donnell-peer-review-solid-scientific-basics/#comment-11340

  11. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard J, if you were not so egotistical as to zoom in on your comments on the thread, you would see that you are late to the party and behind on the issues.

    Would you care to stay on topic? I would.

  12. Deech56 Says:

    Tom Fuller wrote: “However, 99% of stress on environments has other causes, most man-made…”

    Where does this number come from?

    Tom Fuller also wrote: “The environment, as Jeff Id alluded to, has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.

    That’s a big “if”.

    And finally: “For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For some it will not. But that kind of lottery has been occurring for a couple of billion years.”

    Another “if” followed by the usual “stuff happens”. Yes, natural selection has happened since life began, but so have mass extinctions. Loss of specialists in favor of generalists or invasive species is a loss in biodiversity, which is the point of this article.

    Excellent input from Dr. Harvey – much appreciated.

  13. dhogaza Says:

    Jeff Harvey:

    Some invasive species that are well adapted to fire regimes – such as invasive plants like cheatgrass and Melaleuca trees for example – have had remarkable and destructive impacts on native ecosystems in North America that are not adapted to fire. In fact, these plants can actually enhance fire risk during electrical storms because they are highly flammable and yet resistant to fire

    There seems to be strong observational evidence that cheatgrass have led to there being more frequent wildfires. Among other things, cheatgrass extends the fire season in the semi-arid western US because it greens up then goes dormant (brown and dry, burning easily) much earlier in spring than native grasses. It also burns rapidly and hot.

    So in the case of cheatgrass I think we can say “does enhance” rather than “can enhance” as you’ve stated above …

  14. dhogaza Says:

    Let’s see … we have a professional ecologist accomplished enough to have spent time as a[n] [past?] editor of Nature, vs. some random dude who used to blather for examiner.com.

    Why are we even having this discussion? :)

  15. dhogaza Says:

    But more long, explanatory posts by Dr. Harvey would certainly be welcomed by me! The noise from Fuller can be ignored …

  16. Sou Says:

    Hear, hear. Also, I’m interested in Bernard J’s contribution (in the previous thread) such as temperature-dependent gender selection of many reptiles which I’ve not known about previously.

    And maybe some discussion of heat stress and humidity as it applies to species other than humans. I’m thinking of the paper referred to in this article:

    http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/global-warming-heat-stress/

    During the last drought, we were visited for extended periods by large flocks of birds that normally live hundreds of kilometres to the west. I expect they were competing with the local residents for food.

  17. Bart Says:

    Tom,

    – Serious participants in the climate discussion are fully aware that the climate has always changed, and also that that by itself doesn’t indicate anything about the causes of the current changes.

    – Since you have often indicated your allergy to the terms “denier” and “denialist”, please also consider other people’s allergy (incl me) to the terms “alarmist” and “warmist”. This is not an invitation to discuss the relative merits of these terms; the only equivalence I draw is in the allergy different people have to these terms.

    – Also if climate sensitivity is on the low end of the estimated range, business as usual will result in strong climate change that will increases the stress on ecosystems. To avoid likely deleterious effects on ecosystems (and numerous other effects), business as usual emission scenario’s should be avoided.

  18. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bart, I hate to be rude–unintentionally. You will notice upon examination that I’m never the first to use pejorative terminology.

    The point in dispute quite simply is the relative degree of harm caused by anthropogenic climate change vs. other activities of man.

    I submit that the ratio right now is 1% to 99% respectively. I further submit that if we do not address the other human impacts on our biosphere first and extensively, that there will be relatively little biosphere to feel the impacts of climate change.

  19. MapleLeaf Says:

    Tom (and please note how I do not play word games with your name),

    “if we do not address the other human impacts on our biosphere first and extensively,…”

    You present a false choice. There is no reason why we cannot effectively address both at the same time. For example, reducing/preventing deforestation addresses habitat protection and diversity, while also reducing carbon emissions. That is but one example.

    Sorry, but I’m with the many respected and experts like Harvey, EO Wilson and other eminent scientists on this one. When I fly in a plane I trust the pilots to fly the plane, not the baggage handlers– because the pilots have been trained, they have experience and they have insights that we non-experts (including you and Jeff) simply do not have. Quite frankly some of us are just not paranoid nor are deluded to think that we are omniscient.

    Maybe Dr. Harvey can speak to the role of “cumulative impacts”.

  20. MapleLeaf Says:

    Dhogaza,

    “Why are we even having this discussion? :)”

    Well, it would be a good and fruitful discussion if the contrarians were willing to try and learn from Harvey and ask some sincere thoughtful questions instead of lecturing him and trying (unsuccessfully) to score “gotchas”.

    Like we didn’t need more evidence that certain contrarians suffer from the D-K effect. No wonder the world is such a bloody mess….

  21. Tom Fuller Says:

    MapleLeaf, I play games with your pseudonym, not your name. I consider it marginally better than profanity or insults.

    I’m not presenting a false choice. I’m arguing for prioritization of efforts and clarity of goals.

    If the ‘pilots’ are trusting Hughes, Ehrlich et al regarding extinction, if they are trusting Steig et al for Antarctic temperatures, if they are trusting Mann regarding temperature history, if they are trusting Prall, Schneider et al regarding the expertise of those supporting versus opposing the consensus, my conclusion is that the pilots are not using the correct navigational instruments.

    Sadly, scientists are not piloting spaceship Earth. Politicians are. The debate I am interested in influencing is not scientific–I am not a scientist. It is political. I am a member of the polity.

  22. sidd Says:

    Mr. Tom Fuller wrote at 8:16 pm on the 19th of February, 2011:

    “…the relative degree of harm caused by anthropogenic climate change vs. other activities of man.

    I submit that the ratio right now is 1% to 99% respectively. ”

    Perhaps Mr. Fuller would provide a citation or a calculation for this number ?

    sidd

  23. Tom Fuller Says:

    sidd, I used those numbers metaphorically. not as the result of a formal attribution study. I would imagine that the use of the percentages would serve as a clue to most.

  24. dhogaza Says:

    Tom Fuller:

    I am not a scientist

    Yet Tom knows more about climate science than Mann, Schneider, Steig, etc … and more about ecology than Harvey.

    I would imagine that the use of the percentages would serve as a clue to most.

    A clue to what? The fact that you just made up that number because … you like how it sounds?

  25. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Ron,

    Many thanks for the article. I only have full access to the Nature article at work, so I will download it on Monday and comment later.

    Re: Tom Fuller’s estimated scale of threats posed to biodiversity by human actions (1% AGW versus 99% other factors), this is not to be taken seriously. Its difficult, perhaps impossible, to separate different causes for the current spike in declining species and populations because many of them are synergized, as I have said before. Thus, species would be better able to disperse under conditions of a rapidly warming world if humans had not already greatly simplified natural systems and placed so many barriers to their effective dispersal.

    I also do not disagree necessarily with Fuller’s suggestion that many species would not be negatively affected (benefitting is putting it too strongly) in places where temperatures change gradually. But the entire concept of scales is a wholly human concept. What rate of change exactly constitutes ‘ gradual’? The problem is that changes that we humans perceive as gradual are not gradual in the context of complex adaptive natural systems or in geological time. Certainly, nature is highly resilient to a point, and it has to have been since humans have greatly reduced complexity over the past 100-200 years, and especially since 1960. However, beyond certain thresholds – which ecologists call ‘tipping points’ (kudos to Martin Scheffer) we can expect a lot of nasty surprises, as systems break down and switch into alternate (and not necessarily stable) states.

    Fuller makes no bones about criticizing some of the most esteemed scientists in various fields of research. Effectively, these scientists – experts with many hundreds of peer-reviewed articles amongst them and with many awards (e.g. Paul Ehrlich has been a past winner of the Crafoord Prize, an equivalent to the Nobel Prize in fields outside of that award) – have drawn conclusions that an ‘expert’ like Fuller disagrees with. Bernard asked the appropriate question of Fuller and was rebuffed. Paul’s contribution to ecology has been immense, and he was one of the first ecologists to venture across the boundary between science and society. His books are outstanding, and his contribution to our understanding of extinction rates as well as the value of biodiversity in providing supporting ecosystem services has been immense. He was supervisor and mentor of Gretchen Daily, one of the world’s new generation of outstanding ecologists.

    Yesterday Fuller went ballistic when I indirectly accused him of being a contrarian. Yet he throws around terms like ‘warmist’ here to describe those supporting the vast amount of empirical evidence for AGW. I also see that he often uses what is in my opinion the appalling anti-environmental web site WUWT as a platform of ideas – hence why I used the term contrarian. I am sorry that there are blogs like CA and WUWT which I wouldn’t trust if my life depended on it. But heck, I am only a scientist; what do I know?

    One last point: Bernard correctly alluded to the fact that sex-ratios in many reptiles, especially lizards, are temperature dependent. The mothers lay their eggs in certain micro-climates where the ambient temperature will affect the sex of their progeny. In a warming world, we could see highly skewed sex ratios as a result of changes in micro-climates. I will rad up on some of this literature in the coming weeks.

  26. MapleLeaf Says:

    Fuller,

    “I play games with your pseudonym, not your name”

    I was not talking about me, or pseudonyms– does “junkerman” sound familiar? It should, you used that.

    I think what you meant to say is that:

    “my opinion is that the pilots are not using the correct navigational instruments.”

    You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own science to own facts. And what we are observing now was, for the most part, correctly predicted in Arrhenius at the end of the 19th century, well over 100 years ago. You need to stop obsessing with MBH or Steig or PRall– those are only part of a very big puzzle. And last time I checked, technology has advanced and GPS is a very reliable navigational tool.

    Again, you are presenting a false choice. We can reduce GHGs and address environmental concerns– as my example concerning deforestation demonstrated. Also, the inception of the Montreal Protocol did not require the cessation or reduction of addressing environmental issues.

  27. Eli Rabett Says:

    Some additional links to blogs and references at Rabett Run courtesy of Jeff

    This is another one of those not either/or but both issues.

  28. MapleLeaf Says:

    And Fuller, you are clearly cherry picking with MBH etc….there are many other Hockey sticks out there which corroborate MBH, and the one work that claimed to refute MBH was plagiarized, and nothing more than a political tool.

    Anyhow, I look forward to reading more posts by Dr. Harvey here…and I’ll ignore you until you are willing to make a substantive and sincere contribution.

    PS: My sentence in my previous post should have read:

    “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own science or to your own facts.”

  29. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harvey correctly perceives that my ratio of 1% to 99% is not to be taken seriously, after I point it out to Sidd. We’re off to a flying start.

    Indeed I make no bones about my criticism of famous scientists. What Harvey perhaps is unaware of is that I am pitching my tent in the camp of other famous scientists who have critcized them, not taking on the burden of refutation myself.

    I’m glad Paul Ehrlich has a fan. He also has a number of critics, myself among them. His unerring tendency to err is justly famous. His work with Hughes in 97 is fortunately so vague as to be unfalsifiable. Sadly that vagueness also makes the work useless. That’s just the way science works sometimes. However, those of us with a memory are (may I say it) skeptical of Ehrlich for other reasons. The year he advocated stopping all aid to India and abandoning them to starvation is the year that India began exporting surplus wheat. It is not the error, nor the magnitude of the error, that bothers so many of us. It is the callous willingness to condemn so many millions to starvation.

    Harvey correctly perceives he is only a scientist, and perhaps understands that his voice on policy decisions, while welcome as a participant, should not carry greater weight than others merely because he is a scientist. His blithe description of CA and WUWT merely shows that he is both prejudiced and unwilling to read at length.

    Harvey got invited over here by dhogaza and came agenda in hand, bent on slamming Jeff Id and, to a lesser extent, myself. Harvey shows no sign of being willing to discuss any of the issues, but wishes to speak ex cathedra from his navel about the ability of others to contribute.

    But that’s not the way it works.

  30. Tom Fuller Says:

    MapleLeaf, Arrhenius made several projections of temperature rise due to CO2 concentrations. To which do you refer?

  31. Harry Says:

    This is a complete nonsense debate. As if the degree of biodiversity is a measure for the vigour of life on this planet.

    Let me put it another way: what event would be needed to sterilize this planet? Which would mean to terminate all life forms as we know hem at this moment.

    The only thing I can think of is a massive gamma blast, exactly directed at this planet. Any other solution would fail.

    We find bacteria at 3 km below the surface, in pristine rock. We find them at 10 km altitude in the atmosphere. Every niche is occupied. Whatever happens to a particular species is completely irrelevant. When its vacates its niche, the niche will immediately be taken over.

    The degree of biodiversity is a very artificial one. For nature, life, it is even less important. Remenber that we humans are responsible for the definition of species. Life on this planet relies on common biochemistry, and is able to vay on this theme much more than we can envision.

    “It is life Jim, but not as we know it.”

    How true and prescient a remark.

    And the most embarrassing statement is that biodiversity is negatively influenced by AGW.

    AGW does not exist, and thus its effect on biodiversity is non-existant. This is complete hubris, humbug.

  32. skeptic Says:

    the current rate of warming threatens…

    Perhaps one should define “current”. For starters.

  33. MapleLeaf Says:

    I was not necessarily referring to temperature predictions per se.

    This is OT, but Arrhenius in 1896 wrote:

    “The influence is generally greater in winter than in summer, except in the part that lies between the maximum and the pole. The influence will also be greater the higher the value of [absorptivity], that is in general somewhat greater for land than for ocean. On account of the nebulosity [cloudiness] of the Southern hemisphere, the effect will be less than in the Northern hemisphere. An increase in the quantity of carbonic acid will of course diminish the diference in temperature between day and night. A very important secondary elevation of the effect will be produced in those areas that alter their albedo by the extension and regression of snow-covering, and this secondary effect will probably remove the maximum from lower parallels to the poles.”

    So he predicted the reduction of DTR, he predicted that the warming would be greatest in winter, that the warming would be greatest at high latitudes, he predicted the positive feedback from ice loss (and the associated lowering of albedo), i.e., he predicted and polar amplification. All these features have been observed in response to the increased radiative forcing from higher GHG levels.

    Now back to biodiversity.

  34. Eli Rabett Says:

    Of course, if Harry wants to live at the bottom of the ocean as bacteria, one can only hope for his deserved and desired reincarnation.

  35. Ron Broberg Says:

    Harvey correctly perceives that my ratio of 1% to 99% is not to be taken seriously, after I point it out to Sidd.

    Hm. Is this a singular observation or the beginning of a general theory?

    —-

    Dr. Harvey, I look forward to your comments on Sahasrabudhe and Motter.

    Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the PETM as an analogy for Anthropocene extinction due to climatic factors. Similarly, are the likely near-term changes out-of-scale with glacier stadial-interstadial transitions?

  36. Harry Says:

    Who cares what Arrhenius wrote, more than 100 years ago? Do we not have more accurate estimations than his? Why not?

    AS for eli, I do not live on the bottom of the ocean. Please, read what I had to tell.

    You are so dumb, that I start feeling sorry for you.

  37. MapleLeaf Says:

    I echo Ron’s question regarding the PETM…

  38. Tom Fuller Says:

    Arrhenius wrote a lot of things. Usually people like Maple Leaf point out his 1895 prediction of projected warming with a doubling of CO2, and then neglect to mention his revision of 1906.

    If anyone is still interested in talking about the subject I would like to know more about the concept of refugia, where survivors of species affected by past episodes of climate change clustered and survived away from their natural range.

  39. dhogaza Says:

    Here’s one thing Arrenhuis wrote in 1906 (english translation):

    “If the quantity of carbonic acid in the air should sink to one-half its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; a diminution to one-quarter would reduce the temperature by 8°. On the other hand, any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth’s surface by 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°.”

    Sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 of 4C, a bit high, but not too high.

    Now it’s been said that in the swedish version of the same book he said 2.1C but oddly no one at wikipedia actually provided a quote in swedish to back it up. Hans Erren kept the claim in, not because he was convinced that Arrenhuis actually said it, but because Arrenhuis’s value of 1.6C for CO2 *alone* is in the ballpark with modern calculations. If Arrenhuis decided later in life that water vapor feedback would only add 0.5C warming per doubling, he was very far off.

  40. Tom Fuller Says:

    He actually wrote that in 1908. His 2.1 degree projection including 0.5C in feedbacks was in 1906, as cited in Wikipedia.

  41. MapleLeaf Says:

    “Usually people like Maple Leaf point out his 1895 prediction of projected warming with a doubling of CO2″

    Nice strawman Fuller, I never made reference to his projection for warming for doing CO2 that he made in 1896. Do you deny he was right about the predictions he made that I cited above? If you do, then you are denying the reality that we have been observing. My initial point stands, deal with it.

    I doubt you will though. Your reticence (some might even say inability) to concede any point, no matter how trivial or important, and you arguing strawmen arguments is a tactic employed by “contrarians” and ‘skeptics’ and those in denial about AGW.

    Now your question about refugia is kind interesting, so how about we move on eh?

  42. dhogaza Says:

    Oh, I see that on another long thread Tom Fuller brought up Arrhenius, claimed the german version of the book said 2C per doubling including water vapor, while Marco read the german version and pointed out that it actually said 4C – just as we see in the english language version.

    Meanwhile, we see that wikipedia claim copied all over the denialsphere.

  43. dhogaza Says:

    He actually wrote that in 1908. His 2.1 degree projection including 0.5C in feedbacks was in 1906, as cited in Wikipedia.

    No, he wrote that in 1906 – the english translation was published in 1908.

    His 2.1 degree projection including 0.5C in feedbacks was in 1906, as cited in Wikipedia.

    There was no cite.

  44. dhogaza Says:

    Note what Tom’s trying to claim, though:

    1. in 1896 Arrhenius published his 4-5C sensitivity calculation.

    2. in 1906 Arrhenius said 2.1C

    3. in 1908, back to 4C

    All over the map! Or … maybe … #2 is a myth;

    Who cares, though, really? He did get the big picture right, as Mapleleaf points out, and that’s very impressive.

    While Tom doesn’t even get the small bits right …

  45. Sailrick Says:

    Tom Fuller

    “…addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.”

    Of course we should ameliroate other impacts, but most of those impacts will only be exasperated by global warming. Good luck with any of those impacts, when the U.S. GOP led congress wants to roll back all environmental protection. The situation in Australia is looking a lot like that here in the U.S.

    “The environment, as Jeff Id alluded to, has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.”

    What in the world makes you think warming will happen slowly enough?
    The fast rate of change is the danger. Changes that in the distant past, that would have taken thousands if not millions of years, are happening in a human lifetime.
    Welcome to the Anthropocene.

    “For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations.”

    And as we all know, uncertainty in climate sensitivity only works in one direction.
    But what the hell, let’s bet the diversity of the planet’s biosphere on the thin hope that climate science has over-estimated the climate sensitivity.

  46. dhogaza Says:

    I totally missed this …

    Tom Fuller

    “…addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.”

    Um, didn’t you mean “without continuing to ameliodrate”?

    Conservation efforts in this country and elsewhere are going strong, and have been for decades, and I haven’t heard of any climate scientists or conservationists suggesting we stop.

  47. jeff Id Says:

    Bart,

    Wow, my own thread — at least a chunk. I actually replied on the last with a fairly long post but had some internet trouble.

    The next few days are difficult but I’ll come back to support my statements. In the meantime, life has again taken over for blogging. Sorry for the delay.

  48. J Bowers Says:

    Sorry for OT. Interesting paper being discussed at Skeptical Science: ‘Deep ocean warming solves the sea level puzzle’

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=587

  49. J Bowers Says:

    Fuller — “He actually wrote that in 1908. His 2.1 degree projection including 0.5C in feedbacks was in 1906, as cited in Wikipedia.”

    I can’t believe you’re still clinging to that.

  50. Tom Fuller Says:

    Are you saying he didn’t?

  51. dhogaza Says:

    Tom Fuller:

    Are you saying he didn’t?

    There’s no evidence he did.

    Both the German and English translations of the book in which he supposedly said it refer to a sensitivity of doubling of 4C.

    And no one has actually shown where it says so in the Swedish book. It’s simply a claim without any evidence whatsover.

    If you translate the swedish original for us, and show us just *where* he actually *did* say it, you might get somewhere with us.

  52. dhogaza Says:

    Sorry for OT. Interesting paper being discussed at Skeptical Science: ‘Deep ocean warming solves the sea level puzzle’

    Essentially it closes the energy budget, i.e. it’s pointing the way towards putting an end to the “travesty” mentioned by Trenberth (and so horribly misrepresented by denialists).

    (I say “pointing the way” because it’s just one paper, and undoubtably others will followup on this technique, and more GRACE data will help as time goes on).

  53. Tom Fuller Says:

    Are you saying that Svante Arrhenius did not project temperature rise of 2.1C for a doubling of concentrations of CO2, with 0.5C of that being from feedback, in 1906?

  54. J Bowers Says:

    Fuller — “Are you saying he didn’t?”

    Worlds in the Making:
    Swedish original: Världarnas utveckling (1906)
    German translation: Das Werden der Welten (1907)
    English translation: Worlds in the Making (1908)

    Worlds in the Making, page 53:

    If the quantity of carbonic acid in the air should sink to one-half of its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°.

    Das Werden der Welten, page 48

    Andererseits würde eine Verdoppelung des Kohlensäure Gehaltes der Luft die Temperatur der Erdoberflache um 4, eine Vervierfachung sie um 8 [graden] erhöhen

    (As translated by Marco):

    On the other hand would a doubling of the CO2 content of the atmosphere increase the temperature of the surface of the earth by 4 degrees, a quadrupling by 8 degrees

    As translated using Google Translate:

    On the other hand, a doubling of carbon dioxide content in the air the temperature of the earth’s surface by 4, a fourfold increase it by 8 [degrees]

    Now the Swedish version:

    En sänkning af luftens kolsyremängd till hälften af dess nuvarande värde skulle nedsätta temperaturen med omkring 4 grader, en sänkning till en fjärdedel med bortåt 8 grader. A andra sidan skulle en fördubbling af luftens kolsyra höja jordytans temperatur med 4, en fyrdubbling skulle höja den med 8 grader.

    Google translate says…

    A reduction of air kolsyremängd to half its current value would reduce the temperature by about 4 degrees, a reduction to a quarter by about 8 degrees. On the other hand, a doubling of air, carbon dioxide increase soil surface temperature by 4, a fourfold increase would raise it by 8 degrees.

  55. J Bowers Says:

    That was from pages 44-45 of the Swedish 1906 original.

  56. Tom Fuller Says:

    You’re not answering my question.

  57. Sou Says:

    Please stop guys – this thread started off very well and has degenerated into arguing with emptiness. Bart, would you please consider at least something like the borehole if not deletion of deliberately argumentative nonsense posts.

    Everyone else – please ignore the political anti-science, your replies only generate more rubbish. I had hoped that this thread was going to give us an even greater wealth of information. I will be disappointed but not surprised if Jeff Harvey doesn’t come back after the last few posts. Thank you for what you’ve posted already, Jeff. And thanks to Bart and Jeff and Eli for the links.

    I’m only sorry that Bart chose to give Jeff Id a platform. I hope he doesn’t fill the thread with more silliness like his quote above.

  58. Tom Fuller Says:

    You are quoting from his 1908 work, Worlds in the Making. I am asking you about his 1906 paper, Die vermutliche Ursache der Klimaschwankungen.

  59. J Bowers Says:

    Fuller — “Are you saying that Svante Arrhenius did not project temperature rise of 2.1C for a doubling of concentrations of CO2, with 0.5C of that being from feedback, in 1906?”

    http://members.casema.nl/errenwijlens/co2/arrhweart.htm

    Arrhenius didn’t change his numbers in 1901. He writes in 1901 (page 699 bottom):
    [...]
    (my emphasis) In English. A tripling of CO2 including water vapour feedback yields a 8.2 °C temperature increase, or 5.17°C (8.2ln2/ln3) for CO2 doubling, a halving of CO2 including water vapour feedback yields a 5.3 °C temperature decrease. A tripling of CO2 excluding water vapour feedback yields a 7 °C temperature increase, or 4.4°C (7ln2/ln3) for CO2 doubling, a halving of CO2 excluding water vapour feedback yields a 4.0 °C temperature decrease. Hence the “somewhat lowered effect” of Weart is only for halving CO2, not for tripling, that is a “somewhat increased effect”(!). (7.1 vs. 7.0).
    1896: 8K/3xCo2
    1901: 8K/3xCO2
    1903: 8K/3xCO2
    1906: 8K/4xCO2

    1906 is from Världarnas utveckling. German translation: Das Werden der Welten(1907), English: “Worlds in the Making “(1908 ). It is a popular science book without formulae. The low value mentioned in “Worlds in the Making” is the dry CO2.

    Dry CO2. I suspect that’s before feedbacks.

    dry (dr)
    adj. dri·er (drr) or dry·er, dri·est (drst) or dry·est
    1. Free from liquid or moisture: changed to dry clothes.
    2. Having or characterized by little or no rain: a dry climate.
    3. Marked by the absence of natural or normal moisture: a dry month.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dry

  60. Tom Fuller Says:

    Gee, Sou, how do you think it degenerated?

  61. J Bowers Says:

    Sorry Sou. I’ll stop.

  62. Sou Says:

    Here is another post to be thinking about, which is related to the topic:

    http://climatesight.org/2011/02/17/extinction-and-climate/

    h/t to Tamino.

  63. J Bowers Says:

    Bart, perhaps you could move these Arrhenius posts to the Open Thread if possible?

  64. Tom Fuller Says:

    J Bowers, I ask about 1906 and you give me extensive verbiage about 1908 and 1901. His 1906 paper, Die vermutliche Ursache der Klimaschwankungen is credited with having that projection, and not only in Wikipedia. Are you saying that is incorrect?

  65. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller says (February 19, 2011 at 18:55):

    Bernard J, if you were not so egotistical as to zoom in on your comments on the thread, you would see that you are late to the party and behind on the issues.

    Would you care to stay on topic? I would.

    The only egotism here is your certainty, without any formal training or professional experience in several distinct and complex disciplines of science, that you nevertheless understand the fields better than the tens of thousands of scientists who have trained and worked in their respective fields for decades.

    I linked to my own post because the points contained therein remained unaddressed, and contrary to your claim they are very much on topic – if you are unable to perceive this then it is simply a reflection of the fact that you do not in fact understand anything about the material upon which you pronounce.

    I raised issues that any serious ecophysiologist would understand has profound consequences in a warming world. That you brush them aside, or even ignore them, shows that you have not grapsed their significance. I suggest that you “care to stay on topic” so that you can avoid the difficult, and very relevant, counters to your own nonsense…

    One of your problems is that you expect immediate manifestation of extreme biological consequences. This is muddled-headed on a number of levels.

    First, the warming predicted from greenhouse gas emissions has only been obviously discernable at an instrumental level for several decades. Such early changes overlap the normal bioclimatic envelope ranges of most organisms even without any significant attempt at adaptation on their part. This is not to say that decades more, or centuries more, of slightly elevated temerpature (and concommittent hydological alterations) would not eventually manifest in altered ecologies – it just means that the effects are not obvious at this point in the process and with the magnitude, to date, of warming.

    Secondly, in even circumstances where ecophysiologies are being adversely impacted, it takes time for the consequences to manifest. Changing phenologies are one early indication, and alterations to recruitment and to other measures of fitness are more. The list is quite extensive, but I won’t detail them for you because I suspect that you will simply find the first contradictions that you are able to Google, and not actually learn about them for yourself. If you really want to gain a basic understanding of them I suggest that you start with a 101 course, as most people do when they desire to learn.

    In your learning I suggest that you could usefully study the phenomenon of tolerance away from ecophysiological optima, and the mechanisms that both permit and constrain such tolerances. I gave you some clues about this in my previous post. Think on these tolerances, and what they imply for the adaptation to current warming, and to future warming. Think about the time scales required for manifestation of signs of the limitations of these tolerances.

    A third problem with your cavalier disregard of the ecophysiological sequelæ of a warming climate is that you brush aside the subjects of ecological interaction and of extinction debts. I mentioned this before, as did Jeff Harvey. It seems to escape your notice that, as a consequence of these two phenomena, a species can be ‘the walking dead’ and yet persist for generations more. This is a crucial point in the response of species to abrupt climate change, and you have failed understand the implications of this.

    A fourth point that you skirt around is that of climatic inertia. Even if we were to cease all further emsssions this decade, there is in train much more warming, which will have further knock-on effects for the reasons I pointed out above. Add climatic intertia to eventual failure of ecophysiological tolerance and non-evolutionary adaptability, to breakings-down of ecological interactions, and to accumulating extinction debts, and there is a mess of problems looming on the horizon.

    And finally, I will add my voice to the others pointing out your strawman/false choice argument about addressing other environmental problems. Only a patronising fool of the highest order would think that ecologists are not aware of the many problems that face the planet’s species and ecosystems, and ecologists’ concerns already take these into account. Addressing these other concerns without addressing simultaneously the climatic elephant in the room would result in inevitable future futility, because no matter the halting of habitat destruction, or of pollution, or of further invasive species damage, a changing climate will exacerbate exisiting problems, and undo the rehabilitation of previous problems.

    If you understood the even basic issues of ecophysiology and climate change, you would know this.

    Of course, if you truly believe that there is no warming in train beyond what is currently apparent, then your argument becomes, again, one with the physicists and climatologistsof the world, and not with the ecologists and ecophysiologists. However, if you accept even the most conservative IPCC scenarios for warming, your take on the risks to biodiversity is wildly ill-informed and uneducated.

    The only consolation for you is that you won’t be around when the worst of the consequences become apparent.

  66. Tom Fuller Says:

    You might want to tell this guy:

    Furthermore, it is not historically correct that Svante Arrhenius “first suggested in 1896 that… .”In this work Arrheniusreferenced Fourier and Tyndall for their much earlier suggestion that the climate was controlled by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. In this 1896 article he made the first quantitativeestimate of the climate sensitivity [3]. Considering that the spectral results were poorly resolved and otherwise defect, the result 3-4 oC for doubling the concentration of CO2 was amazingly close to the IPCC claims today. However, it is very rarely mentioned that Arrhenius 10 years later published a calculation resulting in a much lower effect of CO2 .

    Carl G. Ribbing
    Professor, Division of Solid State Physics
    The Ångström Laboratory
    Uppsala University, Sweden

  67. Tom Fuller Says:

    Oh, Bernard J, I am so pleased you took the time to respond.

    I am very familiar with extinction debts. The classic example being a surviving species of 10 turtles, all male. Dead turtles walking. That doesn’t change the fact that extinction estimates are modeled projections that vary incredibly, while listed extinctions amount to 784 since 1500.

    You and I both know that extinctions are higher, and that they are increasing due to anthropogenic impact on the biosphere. If it warms 4 degrees C, that number will almost certainly rise. I do not dispute that. What I object to (again) is the spurious introduction of a percentage rise over a baseline that cannot be computed, but only estimated.

    It’s called making stuff up to scare people. It ain’t right.

    We have a serious problem with biodiversity. It is caused by four factors: habitat loss, invasive competition, hunting and pollution. Global warming is not yet a factor. Is it likely to be in the future? Yes, as a ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ for vulnerable species.

    If you phrase it in qualitative terms rather than phony quantitative garbage, you have a chance of persuading people. Making stuff up works just long enough to get people to check on how you arrived at your statistics. And they don’t hold up.

    If you want to tease out changes to phenotypes and think you can attribute some of it to global warming, as opposed to pollution and habitat loss, go do it and good luck.

    As for species’ tolerance of change, remember that it varies widely from species to species. You all make blanket predictions of decimations to flora and fauna without differentiating the different tolerances. It’s ‘whoopee, we’re all gonna die’ talk. Nor is there any talk of faux speciation, where insects separated by short distances develop distinct mating preferences that, however, can be and are overcome in time of need. Sometimes this results in sports, but sometimes in viable offspring and sometimes in reconvergence of the two species, if they are sufficiently similar.

    As for climate inertia, it’s an interesting concept and plausible. Now that the tools are coming online to actually measure effectively, we’ll be able to see over the next 30 years.

    As I have always said, I believe global warming is occurring and that we need to both address the causes and the effects. Because I don’t fall in line behind your biblical reverence for people I consider as fools, it is convenient for you to label me as a denier. Go ahead. But it isn’t true. And as more people move towards my center part of the spectrum, it makes me wonder why you don’t ever ask why.

    None of the lukewarmers are funded by outside sources. We have no Marc Morano or Joe Romm. We hold no prestigious offices and we are attacked and vilified by morons from both sides. And yet governments are turning towards the solutions we hold, and people are agreeing with us.

    Maybe you should be asking yourself if your shrill contempt and cavalier dismissal of other opinions is really helping you. You could start by asking our host–who believes much as you do, but manages to couch his beliefs in terminology that survives contact with the rest of the world.

    Nahhh–we’re just vile denialists out to destroy the world. That’s the ticket.

  68. Tom Fuller Says:

    Hey, J Bowers! Check this out: English translation of Arrhenius in 1906:
    The current amount of carbonic acid would therefore raise the temperature of the
    Earth’s surface for 14; 6
    
    C its disappearance from the atmosphere would result in
    a lowering of temperatures about three times as strong as the one, which caused
    the ice ages. I calculate in a similar way, that a decrease in the concentration of
    carbonic acid by half or a doubling would be equivalent to changes of temperature
    of 1; 5
    
    C or +1; 6
    
    C respectively.

    http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0707/0707.1161v4.pdf

  69. kdk33 Says:

    @tomfuller,

    That was pretty good, for a bleeding heart liberal.

  70. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Tom,

    You really expect us to take G&T’s word for it? When the rest of their paper was “not even wrong”?

  71. Tom Fuller Says:

    Ah, rats and rabbits. You guys really aim high, don’t you? Believe what you want–like I care? I’m just pleased I found it.

  72. Tom Fuller Says:

    Thanks kdk33. Happy weekend!

  73. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller:

    I am very familiar with extinction debts. The classic example being a surviving species of 10 turtles, all male. Dead turtles walking.

    Sorry, that’s not a classic example, it’s a caricature example.

    If you had any nouse you would have picked a much better example, such as a large island with healthy species populations, then halved the size of the island, and left all of the species’ populations still ostensibly healthy.

    But there would be a significant extinction debt. Your homework is to figure out the reasons why.

    Changing climate, especially in a world of constrained habitat ranges, does the same thing.

    I think that you do not understand extinction debt very much at all.

    You and I both know that extinctions are higher, and that they are increasing due to anthropogenic impact on the biosphere. If it warms 4 degrees C, that number will almost certainly rise.

    “…that number will almost certainly rise dramatically”.

    Fixed it for you.

    I do not dispute that. What I object to (again) is the spurious introduction of a percentage rise over a baseline that cannot be computed, but only estimated.

    Ah, a lovely semantic game. In science estimations are computations, with the accuracy and precision increasing with increasing understanding of, and accumulation of, relevant data.

    And there are methods for computation, both for viable population size and for bioclimatic range determination. As I mentioned above, they require adequate input data, but if you were familiar with the ecological literature you’d know that there are countless examples of well-conducted analyses that indict the risks faced by many species. There is certainly some uncertainty about some of the estimates, but one thing that disparagers such as yourself frequently omit from the highlighting of these uncertainties is that they often arise from the difficulty in incorporating stochasticity into the computations, and therefore they frequently underestimate extinction risks.

    As for species’ tolerance of change, remember that it varies widely from species to species. You all make blanket predictions of decimations to flora and fauna without differentiating the different tolerances.

    Fuller, you’re talking to ecologists who understand this better than do you. This has been raised by myself and others in other fora, because the differential tolerances of species actually presents a risk to those species and ecosystems most vulnerable to climatic changes, insofar as they can be out-competed when temperatures increase.

    In Australia one good example is the remnant Gondwanan Nothofagus forest associations clinging to the tops of the hightest mountain peaks along the Great Dividing Range. Whilst they might be able to persist in warm temperatures, they do not thrive as well as the pyrophilic eucalptus associations at lower altitude. Even slight warming increases the frequency of fire, and the capacity for eucalypts to regenerate more quickly than the Nothofagus will see the latter continue to retreat to the apices in the face of advancing eucalyptus forest, and then blink out when there is no more mountain left. This will remove thousands of species unque to the Nothofagus associations, simply because of the vulnerability of one foundation species.

    So there is in fact no “blanket prediction” occurring – ecologists are well aware of the differential vulnerabilities, and how these interact with other factors to cause synergised consequences.

    Nor is there any talk of faux speciation, where insects separated by short distances develop distinct mating preferences that, however, can be and are overcome in time of need.

    Here, in an attempt to demonstrate an unfounded familiarity with concepts and to simultaneously take a swipe at ecologists, you are showing your complete misunderstanding of the significance of speciation and of genetic sub-populations.

    I once related (on a Tim Curtin thread, I think) an example where some biologists swapped two populations of one aquatic species bewteen the streams of neighbouring (less than 1 kilometre or so apart) catchments – for the sake of the researchers’ privacy I will not identify the taxon involved. I remember a conference hall full of ecologists groaning aloud and muttering in their beards when the methodology was spoken about, because there is no way that it passed modern ethics standards, but despite themselves the ecologists all leaned forward when the results where reached… Subpopulation A out-competed subpopulation B in Subpopulation A’s own stream, resulting in subpopulation B not remaining there, and subpopulation A completely overtook subpopulation B in subpopulation B’s own stream, forcing it to extinction.

    You might not think that this matters in the ‘scheme of things’, but the implications of this phenomenon are profound, and not all beneficial, even for the out-competing population. This by itself is the stuff worthy of entire threads, but here is not the place to pursue it in detail.

    And on the matter of speciation, you should think to familiarise yourself with the Prdm9 gene, which has been receiving a bit of attention over the last year or so. It is an interesting story in the potential of your “faux speciation” to be the height of faux-ness itself.

    Sometimes this results in sports, but sometimes in viable offspring and sometimes in reconvergence of the two species, if they are sufficiently similar.

    Sometimes.

    It’s also one of the great cogs in the machinery of speciation.

    As for climate inertia, it’s an interesting concept and plausible. Now that the tools are coming online to actually measure effectively, we’ll be able to see over the next 30 years.

    By which time it will be too late to act upon what is already well-understood and largely trivial physics.

    I don’t fall in line behind your biblical reverence for people I consider as fools…

    “Biblical reverence”? Spare me the hyperbole.

    It’s due respect for professional understanding, nothing more.

    And those people whom you “consider as fools” happen to be the thousands of professional scientists who actually understand the disciplines that you disparage.

    And as more people move towards my center part of the spectrum, it makes me wonder why you don’t ever ask why.

    I don’t bother asking why sheep try to move to the centre of the flock when there are wolves circling.

    None of the lukewarmers are funded by outside sources.

    Probably because argumentum ad temperantiam is a logical fallacy, and no basis upon which to conduct real science.

    We hold no prestigious offices and we are attacked and vilified by morons from both sides. And yet governments are turning towards the solutions we hold, and people are agreeing with us.

    As I have already said, I don’t bother asking why sheep try to move to the centre of the flock when there are wolves circling.

    Maybe you should be asking yourself if your shrill contempt and cavalier dismissal of other opinions is really helping you.

    “Shrill” contempt? Oh my goodness, there’s a black pot…

    And I’ve already used the word “cavalier” myself, so you can’t have it unless you ask nicely.

    You can, however, have the clues to some science that I’ve been presenting to you. I just hope that you can learn how to use them as well as you can use some flowery language.

    More importantly, I hope that you can learn to understand them properly.

  74. dhogaza Says:

    Bart:

    since Fuller is obviously smarter than physicists and other climate scientists, and ecologists, and knows better what Arrhenius wrote than the archived record …

    if you ban him, he’s obviously so smart that he’ll be able to post here regardless.

    So, why not ban him and run the experiment? :)

  75. Sou Says:

    Thanks, Bernard J. Your posts are thought provoking and informative. I hope the wonderful Tarkine Forest of Tasmania will be listed as a national park/world heritage area soon, and that the Gondwanan Nothofagus forest areas on the mainland will survive for a long time yet.

    Goes to show that sometimes good information can spring from troll/hijacking mischief.

  76. Marco Says:

    Tom, we’ve been through this Arrhenius thing before. You even linked to Hans Erren’s page with the German version of Arrhenius’ article from 1908. It claims 4 degrees per doubling (including feedbacks).
    Right here:

    http://members.casema.nl/errenwijlens/co2/arrhenius0308/index.html

    Page 48, and I quote:
    “Anderseits würde eine Verdoppelung des Kohlensäure-gehaltes der Luft die Temperature der Erdoberflache um 4, eine Vervierfachung sie um 8 (Graden) erhöhen.”

    That is, Hans Erren, reportedly the source of the much lower 1906-update (I’m wondering whether he was just misunderstood, e.g., they may have taken HIS calculations based on Arrhenius’ own data) points to a source that contradicts the “much lower” meme.

    I asked you in that thread what you thought of those people that still claim Arrhenius put the number much lower in 1906, while there is a 1908 source that puts it at 4 degrees. “Chirp, chirp” was all I heard, and here you go again making the same claim already falsified by, notably, your OWN and truly ORIGINAL source.

  77. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard, I’m sure your takedown is devastating. Sadly, I can’t get past your misspelling of the word ‘nous.’ I’m laughing too hard. Youse guys ain’t got no nouse, Ya see? Youse guys are all like, stupid or sumpin. Are you from Joisey?

    Classic.

    Marco! You’re here! After asking for citations for everything including a note from my mother, you don’t believe a direct quote with a link to a published academic piece!

    Classic.

    My Sunday is made.

  78. Bernard J. Says:

    So, Tom Fuller, what you’re really saying it that you have no science.

    Fine.

    Quod erat demonstrandum.

  79. Dave H Says:

    @Tom Fuller

    Even for you, that was juvenile, rude and disrespectful.

  80. Sou Says:

    Seeing that TF has to all intents and purposes shut down another one of Bart’s threads, as he is prone to do on many discussion boards through flooding, trolling and otherwise hijacking, I’ll just comment on a detail that is a little bit ironic.

    Tom Fuller who, when he gets too exuberant, cannot even spell his own name scorns someone whom he incorrectly thinks has not spelt a word correctly in a comment on a blog of all places. Tom must have run out of wrong ‘facts’ to argue.

    According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, nouse is a correct spelling of the word, as is nous. For US citizens who may not be familiar with the word, it is defined in the Shorter Oxford as: 1. intuitive apprehension, intelligence; mind, intellect. 2. Common sense, practical intelligence, gumption.

    In Australian usage, the following might illustrate the meaning: “He doesn’t have the nouse to figure out when to stop trolling.” (intelligence and/or common sense). Also “He doesn’t have the nouse to apologise” (gumption).

  81. Bart Says:

    You guys are on a roll, and I have a hard time keeping up. Life is calling.

    But please remain on topic: Arrhenius discussions, as well as energy balance stuff, belong on the open thread. I can’t move comments within this wordpress platform, but I’ll start removing comments if the discussion at hand (on biodiversity as some of you may remember) keeps being derailed.

    Btw: Agreeing to disagree is fine. It beats bickering back and forth big time.

  82. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Hi Sou,

    Its not that easy for nincompoops like Fuller to drive me away.

    With respect to Fuller’s arguments (or lack thereof), its impossible to debate with a sea of his illogical points and semantics. His comment of the ‘living dead’, was kindergarten level. It was very elegantly addressed by Bernard, and then Bernard gets attacked by Fuller. He belittles esteemed scientists like Paul Ehrlich, claims that I may be his only ‘fan’, does not discuss any of his research with respect to the importance of biodiversity (and that of the opposing school of thought) and then accuses me of avoiding debate. As it turns out, in the scientific world Paul Ehrlich has a lot of ‘fans’ – many factors more than Tom Fuller has, that is to be sure. Perhaps he is jealous.

    But let’s face it – we all know that Fuller is a time-waster here. He clogs up this thread with non-arguments and put-downs and other assorted verbiage, but he cannot debate real ecology, except for the most simplistic descriptive kind. He uses statistics on the number of ‘known’ extinctions without any apparent concern or knowledge of the vastly greater number of ‘unknowns’ that plague our understanding of the issue. Stuart Pimm and I used this analogy to debunk Bjorn Lomborg’s similar manipulation of extinction estimates, and Fuller comes right back with it here. Just because our knowledge of the number of extant species inhabiting our planet is exceedingly poor, does not mean that as we nickel and dime the planet to death that there will not be profoundly significant repercussions that are ‘hidden’ as a result of our ignorance. To reiterate what I said yesterday, 10-40% of well-known species are threatened or endangered, and the list is growing. Thus is should be patently obvious that we are in a very serious predicament. Many species not listed – North American songbirds like the Golden-Winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Loggerhead Shrike, Bachman’s Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Rufous-Sided Towhee and many more – are not even on the IUCN list even though their numbers are in free fall. Fragmentation of habitat has not only reduced species abundance by providing less area for breeding (thus increasing aggressive competition for access to breeding sites), but it has allowed species more adapted to open habitats to infringe on the habitats of species with which they have no evolutionary history. Again, in North America, the brown-headed cowbird is a brood parasite that was once restricted to the great plains and other open habitats. But since many of the great deciduous forests were destroyed or fragmented in the east, the cowbirds have greatly expanded their range and are now encountering and parasitizing the nests of forest species which have not co-evolved with them. We now know that the rapid declines of several songbirds in the east are largely due to brood parasitism from cowbirds.

    Fuller ought to read Tilman et als seminal 1994 extinction debt paper, in which the authors argue that changes in ecosystems inflicted by natural or human causes can take decades or even centuries to ripple right through the system to the terminal end of long food chains. They cite several examples in their article, and it is worth bearing in mind that the effects of habitat destruction as far back as 1950 or, more recent climate changes may not manifest themselves on natural systems for decades to come, by which time it will be too late to do anything about it. Bearing in mind that natural systems generate and maintain conditions that permit humans to exist and persist (a point I make repeatedly on Deltoid) it seems to be the sprint of folly in my opinion for our species to be playing roulette with our future.

    Most importantly, I am saying is that anthropogenic threats to the environment are not independent of other threats. There is little doubt that we are simplifying our planet biologically and ecologically, and the repercussions are increasingly likely top be very severe.

  83. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Tom Fulkler writes, “We have a serious problem with biodiversity. It is caused by four factors: habitat loss, invasive competition, hunting and pollution. Global warming is not yet a factor”.

    Incorrect. Well, I should be more fair. Partially correct.

    Clearly he does not read my posts I cannot blame him necessarily – they are long!!!). I have already provided results of a major study showing that warming is affectively the demographics of a migratory songbird through a disruption of important phenological interactions with species on which it is closely linked. This work was published in Nature, and certainly there are other examples of similar phenomena. Moreover, recent declines of specialist-feeding butterflies in the UK may be attributable to differential dispersal of the insects and their food plants. Plants are not motile and thus they cannot expand their ranges in response to warming as fast as free-flying insects can. Herbivores that feed only on plants producing certain kinds of allelochemicals will suffer more than generalist herbivores. The problem is that 80% or more of insect herbivores are dietary specialists (I have co-authored a paper soon to be published in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society in which we discuss why there is a paucity of generalism in nature).

  84. Tweets that mention Biodiversity, extinction and climate change « My view on climate change -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mynatour and Eco Feeds, Planet3.0. Planet3.0 said: Biodiversity, extinction and climate change http://goo.gl/FrI4F [...]

  85. J Bowers Says:

    Bart and everyone, many apologies in being involved in the derailment. Bart, I’ll follow up in the next open thread and I’ve saved the page for my own reference.

    @ Jeff Harvey, please don’t be discouraged. My bad for falling for it.

  86. Marco Says:

    Tom: comment on open thread for you.

  87. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller.

    A few more points on extinction that I had intended to emphasis previously…

    To repeat again a statement by you:

    What I object to (again) is the spurious introduction of a percentage rise over a baseline that cannot be computed, but only estimated.

    With respect to the higher taxa – fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals – biologists have a very good understanding of the total number of species. And we also have a pretty good idea about their species’ lifetimes. Extinction rates for these taxa can be quite accurately determined.

    And guess what – these taxa are in deep trouble. Consider figure 1 of Hoffman et al 2010, which shows this clearly: the proportions of each class that are endangered are far above what one would expect for their respective background rates, given the evolutionary lifetimes of species within their respective taxa. Whilst you wax on about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (or, for the historical pedants, on the point of a fine needle), species are disappearing,and at an elevated ratebecause of human action.

    Further, the facts that these taxa are often at the apex of trophic pyramids, and that they represent important sources of food, utility, recreational, and æsthetic benefit, puts the problem of this looming extinction crisis front and centre. Or at least it should: too many people are as lacksadaisical about this issue as they are about global warming.

    And on the matter of determining extinction rates when the absolute number of species in a taxon is not known, you obviously have no familiarity with the statistics of sampling. One doesn’t need to know the total number of species to be able to estimate their rates of decline/extinction, although one does need to know that what is understood about known species is representative of unknown species – but again, I will leave this for you to pursue as homework.

  88. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harvey, if you don’t want to engage with me here, don’t. Dhogaza invited you here to attack me. You have done so. Not very well, and not very classily, but you’ve done your duty. Feel free to go elsewhere.

    You haven’t addressed any of my points, preferring to trot out your well-used examples of species in trouble in the hopes that that’s sufficient.

    I didn’t attack Paul Ehrlich. I said he was prone to error and that he had advocated the cessation of foreign aid to India because there was no hope of feeding the masses. This is true. I also said that I find abhorrent his willingness to condemn them to death by starvation. That is true. I’ll attack him now, however. He has harmed the cause of science, not by being repeatedly wrong on numerous issues, but by claiming the cloak of science to avoid acknowledging his mistakes. But don’t worry, Harvey, you’ll get used to it.

    Every time I mentioned the IUCN list of known extinctions I have said that the list is certain to be much longer, and that climate change will add to the list. You sleazily and dishonestly say that I am misusing the statistics.

    The fact is that baseline statistics for extinction and current rates expressed as percentages are useful in science, not in public communications. It amounts to dishonesty, especially when people like jakerman present them with no explanation or qualification. Your enabling of that practice is a disservice to science, but one you seem ready to go to great lengths to preserve.

    Yeah, you’re ready for Mann’s team. No wonder you like the phony metric of extinction base rates. It’s worse than we thought! It’s 50,000% more than the baseline rate. No, don’t ask me to show you any numbers…

    Don’t tell me what I don’t know, Harvey. Not until you know me better.

    I’m aware that the process of species loss occurs in slow motion, as well. Which is why it’s clear that anthropogenic climate change to date can only be held partially responsible for loss of species, because it is so new. You seem determined to ignore the factors that are dominant as a threat to species, just to curry favor with the other circle of jerks you apparently want to join.

    Meanwhile, your abandonment of scientific perspective in order to join the crusade to climate Jerusalem gives tacit permission to continue to those who are causing the real damage via habitat loss, pollution, lax procedures that allow invasive species to be introduced inappropriately, and over-hunting.

    Anthropogenic contributions to climate change are recent. Anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity have been going on for millenia. You do the cause of environmental protection no favors when you jump on the bandwagon of mistaken attribution. I have no doubt that you can chart many species already feeling additional pressure because of climate change. That’s a given, because that’s a constant. The climate always changes and it always puts pressure on vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will do the same.

    Global warming will have a negative effect on some species, perhaps many. Species loss is currently a real problem. The two facts don’t have much to do with each other.

    It’s pretty obvious from your tirades against me, parroting the party line and using personal attack instead of engagement, that you’ve chosen the path of intellectual dishonesty. That’s fine, good luck with your comrades.

    Our environment is not helped by your choices. Maybe your career and your public profile is. (“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?”)

  89. Sou Says:

    Good point about fish in particular. I know that many countries do extensive work on quantifying fish numbers to determine quotas for commercial and recreational fishers as well as for creating marine parks and other purposes.

    Where I live, ecologists and those wanting to do related research rely on government funding and, unless there is a commercial imperative, there is not a lot of money to go around. Even getting funding to research chlamydia, which has been killing the iconic koala, was extremely difficult until some big corporate sponsors came to the rescue.

    IMO many animal and plant species will disappear without their existence ever being properly recorded.

  90. Tom Fuller Says:

    Sou, here’s the pattern of thread disruption:

    Fuller responds to topic, polite and on point.

    Maple Leaf, MarkB, Sou, dhogaza, jakerman, JBowers and BernardJ attack Fuller.

    Fuller responds.

    Thread derails.

    Hmm. Wonder how the dynamic plays out and who benefits?

  91. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller.

    How about you leave your glass jaw on the bedside table and return to the subject of this thread?

    It has been repeatedly put to you that ecologists are aware of humanity’s manifold impacts on biodiversity. If you stop and think about it for a moment you’d realise that this simple truth underscores an enormous proportion of ecological work. Your suggestions that ecologists are not recognising (or even adequately recognising) non-emissions human impacts are a strawman (a favoured ploy of yours, I notice), and they do not address the problem that within several decades the escalating effects of warming will synergise with other human impacts on species and on ecosystems.

    If you so vehemently disagree that warming will significantly accelerate extinction, why don’t you propose some experimental methodologies to test, and thus to prove, your claim? Better still, why don’t you review the literature for studies that have already done so, and compare them with the results of studies that show that there is a climate change interaction with other extinction pressures on species and ecosystems?

    You can present your conclusions here, and then we can really test the veracity of your claims.

    You pretend to an ability to contradict the work of tens of thousands of professional scientists. So do what they do – use some science.

  92. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard J, your lack of commitment to this conversation is amply illustrated by your inability to retain the details of what I have written.

    I do not vehemently disagree that warming will significantly accelerate extinction. I consider it quite likely.

    Nor do I think most scientists fail to understand the relative weights of the factors impacting species’ survival in the present.

    Which is why I react strongly when a few people try to make ‘will accelerate’ read ‘is accelerating’ and redistribute the weights. Because it takes the pressure off of home developers, city planners, distributors of development funds, etc., etc.

    Do I have to use block letters for you? Read carefully, youse:

    Climate change has always added pressure to vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will, too.

    However, as Harvey himself acknowledges, degradation of species viability plays out over a long period of time, longer than the period of noticeable warming due to anthropogenic causes.

    Let’s try a little experiment, here Bernard J, in the interests of science:

    Here is a list of pressures the human race puts on vulnerable species. Please assign percentage scores to each to reflect their relative weight. And yes, I understand that for different species, the weights will undoubtedly be different. And yes, I understand that for some species, anthropogenic global warming will actually lead the pack. But assign the weights for all vulnerable and threatened species.

    Let’s find out where we disagree before we continue to disagree.

    Over hunting
    Pollution
    Habitat loss
    Introduction of invasive species
    Anthropogenic climate change

    For extra credit and to give you a chance to articulate your fears, do the same for 2050 and 2100.

    Anybody can play this game, so feel free.

  93. Tom Fuller Says:

    Guess everybody went to church.

  94. Tom Fuller Says:

    Anybody? Bueller?

  95. MapleLeaf Says:

    I can’t believe folks fell for Fuller’s strawman. He and others have been arguing a point that I did not even make.

  96. Tom Fuller Says:

    Why do you think that I and others took anything you wrote into account, MapleLeaf?

    Care to answer my question?

  97. kdk33 Says:

    Tom, You’re on a roll. I’m in awe.

    Climate is always changing so always pressuring species. Last centuries climate was neither extreme nor extraordinary – regardless of anthropogenic influence, if any. On the list of factors pressuring species to extinction, climate rates fairly low; the anthropogenic portion even lower.

    I like it. I’m gonna steal it (don’t tell). I even think you’re right.

    Now, I’m late for church.

  98. sidd Says:

    Mr. Bernard J. kindly posted a link to Hoffman et al. In the paper.From the abstract:

    “…main drivers of biodiversity loss in these groups: agricultural expansion, logging, overexploitation, and invasive alien species. ”

    To check Mr. Fuller’s guess about 1% loss to climate change:

    fig S7 allow one to estimate the fraction of deteriorating species (of the IUCN list of 25780 endangered species) due to climate change or extreme weather and fire regime changes, as well as several other factors:

    For birds: total number of deteriorating species=433, those due to climate change or severe weather, 8, those due to fire regime change, 1
    The corresponding numbers
    For mammals:: 171,3,7
    For amphibians: 456, 5,1

    Slightly above 1%.

    sidd

  99. MapleLeaf Says:

    Going by your pathetic yelping into cyberspace above, you are incredibly desperate for attention.

    Comment for you on the OT thread.

  100. Tom Fuller Says:

    So, Sidd, are you agreeing with my estimate up thread of 1% due to climate change? Am I reading you correctly?

  101. sidd Says:

    Mr. Tom Fuller wrote at 2100 on the 10th of February, 2011, asking if I agreed with his estimate. I am afraid that my personal assent or dissent would carry little weight, since I am not a professional in the field, but tt seems to me that the paper by Hoffman et al. agrees roughly with the estimate by Mr. Fuller. I would ask the working scientists in the field if the results in the Hoffman paper agree with the rest of the literature.

    sidd

  102. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Sidd,

    Unfortunately, numbers for plants, insects and reptiles are not cited. But I see no reason to guess that the numbers for other kngdoms are not roughly the same order of magnitude.

    To answer Tom’s question:

    Habitat loss
    Invasive species
    Climate Change
    Pollution
    Hunting (over exploitation)

    I put the final two last because they are responsible for the loss of mainly a few high profile species — think lions and tigers and bears — and economically important marine species, but in the grand scheme of things habitat tops all and most likely by a large margin.

  103. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    I should point out that I put climate change so far up the current list because it exacerbates the first two problems. The effects of climate change on extinction are difficult to disambiguate from the first two factors.

  104. sidd Says:

    Fig S7 in the Hoffman paper also help answer some of Mr. Tom Fuller’s question about ranking of stressors to biodiversity. I have given the numbers for Climate change+extreme weather, and fire habitat change. For the others posited by Mr. Fuller, the ratio of species deteriorating to total number of endangered:

    Hunting: Birds 31/233, Mammals:62/171, Amphibians:37/456
    Pollution:6,0,5 (same denominators)
    Introduction of invasive species:32,9,208
    Habitat loss: This is divided into several sub categories, please see the paper

    Note: There are actually species improving as well due to hunting, pollution(!)…

    I do recommend that we all read the paper, for those without a subscription to Science, please note that the abstract, figures and supplementary materials are free, and the graph I am transcribing is in the supplementary materials.

    sidd

  105. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Fuller has me on the floor with this question:

    “So, Sidd, are you agreeing with my estimate up thread of 1% due to climate change?”.

    What a hoot. He writes as if, and he alone, has calculated the relative contribution of different factors to the loss of biodiversity. When I type Fuller T* into the Web of Science search engine in any relevant field of ecology or evolutionary biology, I get 0 hits. A big zilch.

    Sidd, take these figures with an enormous pinch of salt. Your calculations give the impression that the scientific community has worked out to most intimate details the number of species that have been negatively affected by climate change. There are so many problems here that its hard to know where to begin. First of all, data on the status and demographics of even the best studied taxa are incomplete. Many species of songbirds in North America and Europe, for example, have shown sharp declines since the 1970s and 1980s. However, attributing a cause to this is difficult. As I said earlier, many factors may be involved in synergy. Given the paucity of scientists working in the field, we have to rely on a few model systems for data.

    At the end of the day, the bottom line is not to trust pundits and journalists for detailed and reliable information on the environment. They are not trained in the field and their comments are often as deep as a puddle. I have had exchanges with ‘environment’ journalists in The Netherlands that are staggering in their simplicity, and find that the journos to make all kinds of peurile remarks because they have little or no grounding in the field. Its not always their fault – they aren’t trained in many relevant fields and rely on the most basic, simple information. I recall an exchange with a journalist in the U.K. a few years ago in which he quoted a well-known anti-environmentalist as saying that there was no extinction crisis because, to quote him, “no family of plants, birds or animals has become extinct” [because of human actions]. The journalist should have seen through this nonsensical remark right away, but didn’t. Of course extinction is not measured at the phylogenetic level of families, but no higher than species or genetically distinct populations. This statement is like saying that every species in the family Felidae is extinct except the domesticated tabby, so technically the family is still extant. Or that we lose just about every species of beetle in the family Staphylinidae (rove beetles), of which their are many thousands of species worldwide, with the exception of a few, and again, a few species representatives of the family still exist. The quote was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, many of whom cannot tell a family from a tribe from a class from a genera.

    Fuller has his opinions and it is my view that they should be taken with a massive amount of salt. With staggering hubris, he writes to Bernard, “Let’s find out where we disagree before we continue to disagree”… as if his comments really mean anything (except to himself). To repeat, these issues are discussed, debated, and argued at scientific conferences. I would like to ask Fuller how many international ecology-based conferences he has attended in his life. Ecological Society of America meetings? British Ecological Society meetings? International Congress of Ecology? How many? How many seminars have you attended where extinction rates and the functional importance of biodiversity have been the central theme? I have an idea. How much ecological literature have you read. I assume you have read seminal textbooks on the subject from the likes of Begon et al. or Ricklefs? No? And yet you expect us here to be awed by your estimates of the effects of climate change on biodiversity? I will debate you if and only if you exhibit even basic understanding of the following:

    The different hypotheses related to the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning;

    The importance of functional redundancy;

    Top-down versus bottom up regulation of terrestrial and aquatic communities and the various meta-analytical studies that have explored this;

    Food web theory, the importance of feedback loops and species interaction networks in regulating stability and resilience in ecological systems;

    Temporal lags in above- and belowground trophic interactions in response to environmental changes and stresses;

    Your criticism of Paul Ehrlich has nothing to do with his work on plant-insect co-evolution and, more recently, multi species interactions and ecosystem services. What part of Paul’s ecological portfolio do you disagree with? Do you find that his perspective on the importance of biodiversity, shared with esteemed ecologists like Naeem, Tilman, Lawton and others is a better way of explaining its functional importance or do you show more affinity with the views of Wardle, Grime, Huston, Berendse and others?

    How would you compare the value of McCarthur and Wilson’s theory of island biogeography in explaining patterns of biodiversity worldwide, or are you a convert to Hubbell’s neutral theory?

    All of these areas are of vital importance if we are to understand the effects of different human stresses on biodiversity and its importance on the maintenance of systems and of the services that freely emerge from them. Have you read Brian Maurer’s ‘Untangling Ecological Complexity’ or Pimm’s ‘The Balance of Nature/’. These are excellent books that provide both empirical and theoretical approaches to understanding stability and the ways in which systems respond to disturbances over variable spatial and temporal scales. Again, you have not convinced me here that you know much of anything about ecology. Your posts are basal in their simplicity.

    Lastly, you write, “Global warming will have a negative effect on some species, perhaps many. Species loss is currently a real problem. The two facts don’t have much to do with each other”.

    Says who? YOU? Since when were you an expert? Or have you become a self-annonted one?

  106. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Another Fuller howler:

    “Fuller responds to topic, polite and on point”

    Gimme a break. Pu-lease! Your posts are anything BUT on point, because you do not understand basic ecology.

  107. Harry Says:

    What I do not understand is the obsession with rising temperatures. Every biologist can tell you that lowering temperatures is something that should rise concern.

    Let me analyse the problem as follows:

    Suppose AGW exists. Suppose the average temperature goes up as a consequence of AGW with a whopping 2 C.

    How does this change affect biological systems?

    On a molecular level the change will affect the rate of enzymatic conversions. Most enzymes have a temperature optimum, which in one species can be quite narrow, especially in organisms with a fixed body temperature (we). But that is why we have developed a steady body temperature. All other organisms merely slow down activity at lower temps (T), and become more active at higher T. A recent study, published in Science, has shown that biodiversty is likely to increase with increasing T and CO2.

    The earth will change when T rises, but who cares? Earth has been changing ever since it materialised from the cloud of dust.

    We are not the preservators of a museum, we are part of the exhibition.

  108. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Rattus writes, “I should point out that I put climate change so far up the current list because it exacerbates the first two problems. The effects of climate change on extinction are difficult to disambiguate from the first two factors”.

    Excellent! You have nailed it.

    Climate change is exacerbating the threat posed by invasive species, even when they are expanding within the same contiguous land mass. However, the situation is worse for intercontinental invaders, because many of these organisms have left their natural enemy complexes behind and can allocate more metabolic resources to competition. This is the case with many invasive plants with novel ‘weapons’ (e.g. allelochemistry). One of my PhD students is studying interactions between an exotic plant that is native to Asia and native insects. The plant exhibited a dramatic increase during the 1980s – coinciding with rapid warming in central Europe – but it contains novel compounds to which native specialist herbivores are poorly adapted. We are aiming to determine if there has been frequency-dependent selection for the same herbivore species to have become locally adapted to the plant’s chemistry in its native range. But it is clear that exotic plants adapted to warmer climates will thrive and displace many native plants to the north. We are also seeing many exotic plants native to central and southern Europe moving up the main river networks in Europe and surviving in climates which were formerly unsuitable for them.

    With respect to the second point, I addressed that yesterday. Climate change appears not only to be involved in the recent massive Amazonian droughts (which on their own will have huge repercussions for the regions’ biodiversity) but for increased rainfall elsewhere. We cannot ignore abiotic effects on biodiversity. I also argued that humans have created massive barriers to dispersal for many species which would otherwise respond to rapid changes in temperature by moving along intact corridors. Since much of the landscape is now highly fragmented, then this will clearly impact species with poor dispersal capabilities.

    The last point for Sidd: you must also remember that there are time lags in the effects of human-induced changes on environment and its biota. Rapid warming is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the time lag between cause-and-effect relationships to become manifest can be years or even decades. Therefore, DO NOT expect instantaneous responses to global changes. As I said yesterday as well, many of the effects of habitat loss that occurred as long ago as 1700 or 1800 are still rippling through ecological communities (Tilman et al., 1994; Nature). Populations respond gradually over time to ecological perturbations, relaxing towards new equilibria that are or are not stable, or else declining towards extinction. The process is often very slow. So for anyone to say that warming is not yet having a strongly negative effect on biodiversity is speaking out of their you-know-what. Its early days. If the warming continues at its present rate, in conjunction with other anthropogenic threats, then the consequences for biodiversity are very likely to be dire. I suggest that you read articles by experts in the field like Post, Thomas and Parmesan. And watch the empirical literature detailing the negative effects of warming grow exponentially in the coming years.

  109. Harry Says:

    The problem with the invasive plants, I presume you are referring to Ambrosia, is that it is impossible to eliminate the human factor. Many people take seeds, plants from abroad to plant them in their garden. Has nothing to do with global warming. Even with 10 degrees C global warming, that plant from South Asia could not have arrived here without direct human interaction. And so is the case with many of these stories. What about molluscs that were taken aboard when a ship needed ballast water to compensate for empty tanks? Would this mollusc have crossed the Atlantic without human help, in the sense of a ship, safe environment?

    Ecology is a disaster area of biology, mainly due to these not properly identified problems of human interaction.

    It is way beyound to earmarking the occurence of an invading species to AGW. It is simply due to human meddling. Has nothing to do with warming. Any coincidence is by coincidence.

  110. Harry Says:

    As for ecology in general, I would like to suggest that they start using genetic fingerprinting. In this way they can trace the origin of the suddenly invasive species to its genetic source.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to stop with biological pest control with imported, exotic species? We are having serious problems due to the introduction of Harmonia axyridis and Hippodamia convergens, both exotic lady bird beetles that eat aphids. But not only aphids, also the larvae of local lady bird beetles, resulting in the almost extinction of the local species. If you plot it, it will show 100% correlation with CO2.

    Ecology, the black sheap in the garden of biology.

  111. dhogaza Says:

    If you plot it, it will show 100% correlation with CO2.

    I’m from Missouri … show me.

  112. Harry Says:

    Dhogaza,

    I will not plot it for you. Since you are from Missouri. Since you are Dhogaza. I have no intention to engage in a debate with you. You are not qualified, you are trolling.

    Bye!

  113. dhogaza Says:

    sidd:

    Note: There are actually species improving as well due to hunting

    This is frequently due to unregulated, indiscriminate hunting being outlawed and replaced with highly-regulated, licensed hunting with (relatively low) quotas designed specifically to allow species to recover.

    And example here in western North America is the cougar. Until roughly the 1970s (dates vary state-to-state) the norm was that cougar were classified as vermin, a pest species, and anyone could shoot them whenever they chose.

    In most of these states, there was a bounty placed on cougars, i.e. people would turn in dead cougars for money. So you had people who made part of their living using dogs to chase and tree cougars, where they could then be easily shot.

    Then several of our western states reclassified them as a game species, ending indiscriminate killing.

    They rebounded rapidly.

  114. Harry Says:

    Dhogaza:

    QED?

  115. willard Says:

    When it makes Jeff Harvey comments like he does right now, a little bit of Fullerian posturing brings no harm to the thread.

    When it makes people flame him, a little bit of Fullerian posturing always derails the discussion, hijacks the thread.

    Which way obfuscates the absence of the defender (Jeff Id, here) the best?

    How many times must this go on before people realize that the whole point of Fuller is to become the whipping-boy, to report elsewhere how the warmists are bad mouthed, have no manners, and are verging on the hysterical?

    Fuller is playing Poor Me. Wake up.

  116. Harry Says:

    Is this tread about Fuller?

  117. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harvey, if you paid attention to anything except your own posturing, you would recall that I have said I am not a scientist. I’m glad that I know some scientists, so I don’t make the horrid mistake of thinking you are typical of the species.

    Pretty cute to avoid answering my question by attributing to hubris in addressing it to Barnard J. Four paragraphs that pretty much nail your theses to the wall, insisting that communication across the fences is not only unnecessary but unwise.

    So despite my being the one who wrote that global warming would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many vulnerable species, you laud the Norwegian Rat for saying the same thing and throw it as an argument against me.

    What a dolt. I hope you’re a great scientist, because as a logician, communicator and basic thinker, you fail at the entrance gate.

  118. J Bowers Says:

    @ Jeff Harvey

    A casual observer would conclude that Fuller seems to be discouraging you from posting here. Just ignore him, everyone will understand. At least a court jester served a useful purpose.

  119. Tom Fuller Says:

    J Bowers, you are as wrong about that as about everything else you post. I’m happy Harvey’s here. I just want him to start making sense at some point.

  120. Jeff Harvey Says:

    My God this thread is plagued by some massive ignorance.

    Harry,

    You fall into the trap of misunderstanding scale. First of all, 2 C is ‘ whopping’ when it occurs in less than a human generation, and when you take into account variation around the mean. Moreover, in many parts of higher latitudes, temperatures are increasing a lot more than 2 C. These kinds of changes are unprecedented in many thousands of years. I have explained the consequences of this earlier. I do not want to do it again.

    Re: invasive species, genetic fingerprinting is a useful tool but is not infallible. Many invasive species may have multiple origins. Its unlikely that some of the plants I work with that are widely invasive all originated from the same source.

    I agree that the introduction of Harmonia sp. has had seriously negative effects on native ladybirds. But what the heck has that got to do with ecology? Biological control is plagued by the fact that regulations regarding the introduction of organisms differ from country to country. The winds carry n o passports, so countries with lax regulations impact those with stiffer regulations on the release of exotic fauna. But why does this make ecology the ‘black sheep’ of the biological sciences? This is a comic-book level discourse.

    My research is based on addressing fundamental questions. Would you not consider AGW to be based on ‘human meddling’ with the atmosphere? Besides, AGW is facilitating the range expansion of some species into more poleward biomes, where they are competing with natives, or else allowing inter-continetnal invaders to displace natives (fire ants are a good example of this – they are limited in their northwards advance by minimum winter temperatures, bearing in mind that cold acts as an effective biological control agent).

    Anyway, I am virtually done here. I have explained why its impossible to address some fundamentally complex processes and data sets with simple answers. The problem is that some of those outside of the scientific arena expect simple answers that leave little room for error. Is there a biodiversity crisis? Most certainly. Is it likely to be exacerbated by climate change? Again, yes. How serious is the problem? We don’t know. Probably getting worse. How much biodiversity have we already lost? We don’t really know. Most experts agree that its probably quite a lot in terms of populations, and less in terms of species. But the planet is certainly much poorer genetically than it was 50 years ago. What is the prognosis for biodiversity? If we keep on the same path, the bottleneck that we are already in will get narrower. Humans will attempt to co-opt more of net primary production and freshwater flows, but we will ultimately lose more in the process as we try and take over all of nature. What will be the consequences for human civilization? They will not be good. The debt we are inflicting on nature will have to be paid. We are eroding vital ecosystem services that sustain us in a number of ways. Certainly natural systems are quite resilient. They have had to be to have withstood the rather immense human assault thus far. But, given our poor understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning – which should lie at the crux of this ‘debate’ although it has been studiously ignored by those I am in disagreement with until now – I can say with assurance that we do not know how much farther we can simplify nature until many vital services break down. Many of these services may not be so resilient after all, so we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that systems retain as much functional redundancy as possible. This is where the debate here with Fuller and others who claim that I do not debate should have been focused. Not on a few statistics that tell us nothing about the importance of species identity and functionality. As I have said several times, the identity of the species and populations we are losing matters, simply because some perform vital roles in systemic maintenance whereas other s are more superfluous. This may sound harsh, and in now way to I demean the aesthetic value of biodiversity; as a boy it was a love of natural history that guided me towards a scientific career in the first place. But this is not what policymakers want to hear. As the planet shifts to the right politically and free market absolutism overrules emotion and the human spirit, then this is where we are being increasingly sucked into the debate of conserving biodiversity based on functionality and economic expediency. This is why many economists are becoming ever more interested in the economic valuation of ecosystem services; these services emerge over variable scales of space and time and are based on a stupendous array of interactions involving individual organisms. That some organisms – such as pollinators, decomposers, and nutrient cyclers – perform exceedingly vital roles in the ways systems assemble and function is obvious as shown in a huge volume of empirical literature.

    This is what I was willing to discuss, and not whether the planet had lost 1% or 5% etc. of its biota thus far. The debate has gone well beyond that, as it should. Again, Simon Levin’s quite excellent ‘Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons’ (1999) is a book that spells all of this out in detail and it is an easy read.

  121. Harry Says:

    @Everyone,

    What about going back to the basics: biodiverstity and extinction due to AGW?

    Pleaase?

  122. willard Says:

    Fuller can’t skate and can’t follow the puck, so can only try to instigate fights:

    > What a dolt [Bernard J].

    > I just want him [Harvey] to start making sense at some point.

    Perhaps by attacking his interlocutors’s intelligence Fuller will be able to stir some brawl.

    If it continues, perhaps Bart will put Fuller into the penalty box?

  123. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Tom Fuller:

    I am more than willing to discuss the importance of losing biodiversity in terms of ecosystem functioning with you. This area is vital from the perspective of human welfare, considering we do not have effective technological substitutes for most critical services, and even where we do, they are usually prohibitively expensive. But, as I said above, statistics estimating how much diversity we have lost (which are open to massive conjecture, given how much we don’t know) are, IMO meaningless. We have lost a lot of diversity; let’s leave it at that. Now, if you wish, we can discuss function. This is where my professional interests lie. IMO climate change will work in concert with other threats to reduce diversity. Its is what kind of diversity that is most seriously affected that concerns me.

  124. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Harry @

    I have answered your question above. The debate over AGW and its effects on biodiversity are unclear, but likely to become worse in concert with other threats. But there are too many UNKNOWNS to draw any firm conclusions with our present knowledge. What we should be doing is discussing the effects of a suite of human-mediated threats on biodiversity and how this will affect (1) systemic stability and resilience, and (2) the free flow of ecosystem services that sustain our civilization.

    Beyond this, I can say as a scientist that all we know is that diversity is in retreat.

  125. Harry Says:

    @Jeff,

    Thanks for your very elaborate response. I will come back to this, since I am not an idiot, as you presume.

    I know what 2 C implies, which was why I suggested it as an extreme event.

    As you could have noticed from some of my posts, I am not ignorant. Being involved in genetic profiling of invasive species, I do have knowledge about their prevalence and origin of infestation. And I do disagree with you that we can not control them: once we know their origen, we can set up screens to prevent them from entering.

    And why do you think we would have to respect the “ecosystem services”. Whom do these services service?

    Any ecologist I have met up to date would be a perfect conservator in any Natural History museum.

    But we do not live in a museum, we live in an ever changing world.

    What is wrong with change?

  126. Harry Says:

    @Jeff,

    All I can say as a molecular genetics scientist is that diversity is increasing.

  127. sidd Says:

    First I would like to thank Dr. Harvey for his valuable contributions on this thread. I completely understand the caveats on my simple minded calculations from a single source on endangered vertebrates over a limited timespan.

    Dr. Harvey writes at 0135 on the 21st of February 2011:

    “…the identity of the species and populations we are losing matters, simply because some perform vital roles in systemic maintenance whereas other s are more superfluous.”

    Dangerous ground? The very species we deem more superfluous today, might be the very ones that bear the strains needed to survive climates to come ? For as Dr. Harvey points out in a different context:

    “…data on the status and demographics of even the best studied taxa are incomplete.”

    Are we sure enough of our results on the valuation of single species to the health of the whole, especially in view of likely future ? Some valuation will be, in effect made, but I would not trust economists on the matter, I recall an aphorism about the price of everything and the value of nothing. And I believe Wendell Berry once said:

    “We thought that we were getting something for nothing,
    but we were getting nothing for everything.”

  128. Harry Says:

    @sidd,

    It may be worth noticing that we can currently determine the complete genomic sequence of your endangered species for less than 40k$. With this knowledge, we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.

    Sorry, but we molecular biologists, have at this moment G*d like capabilities.

    Which is uncomparable to the impotency of ecology.

  129. Dave H Says:

    @Harry

    > Is this tread about Fuller?

    Fuller’s law. At some point, every thread is about Fuller.

  130. Dave H Says:

    @Harry

    > we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.

    … are you seriously suggesting this is a viable course of action? I want to know if this was just an aside, or if you’ve gone completely off the reservation.

  131. Harry Says:

    @Jeff,

    Let me begin with stating that I disagree with you. But that should not come as a surprise, when we consider that you argue from an ecological point of vue, whereas I come from the molecular biology.

    You think in well organized systems, preferably in equilibrium.

    I think in disorganized systems, finding their way towards equilibrium.

    Remember, we are currently involved in the creation of artificial life. We do not know how our systems will work, and we are talking about single cell systems of which we know exactly what their genetic constitution is.

    This is the most influential experiment mankind has done so far.

  132. Tom Fuller Says:

    Mr. Harvey, I agree with almost everything you wrote. In fact, I wrote most of it first.

    There are serious threats to biodiversity, and AGW is one of them. It cannot be addressed statistically, so we have to tell accurate stories that illustrate the problem.

    I’d love to discuss function.

  133. Sou Says:

    @ Harry, says:
    “And I do disagree with you that we can not control them: once we know their origen, we can set up screens to prevent them from entering.”

    Which is fine and good if you are an island nation and everything entering or leaving the nation can be ‘screened’. (Or by prohibiting the import of any plant or animal material except limited approved imports which undergo strict inspection and quarantine). Although I would call this a preventative measure rather than a control measure.

    It is much more difficult to put up ‘screens’ in the top end of Australia and down the east coast to control the spread of cane toads or lantana, for example. With climate change it would be expected that both these will spread south (which is certainly the case with the cane toad). It is also difficult to screen for invasive molluscs carried by ship around the world.

    IMO another problem with climate change is the associated migration of people from areas no longer liveable. Although some expect most displaced people will crowd into neighbouring regions rather than move further afield, overall, it’s inevitable that any mass migration of people will speed up the migration of plants and animals and reduce the effectiveness of any ‘screening’ or quarantine programs. The speeding up will be both intentional (material migrants take with them) and unintentional (eg via seeds, carrying insects etc). In addition, mass migration of people will put pressure on waterways, native forests, native grasslands and current natural corridors. All of which will put further pressure on the aspects covered by Jeff and Bernard.

    With the slowness of any response to global warming and the continued increase in carbon emissions, +2 degrees will come sooner rather than later. I fully expect it within my lifetime the way things aren’t going, and I’m well past the mid-point of my life.

    PS Nouse rhymes with house in case some were wondering :)

  134. Harry Says:

    @Sou,

    You are confused.

    Economic fugetives are are not Climate driven fugetives.

    And thus, it is not difficult to put up screens.

    Please, shame on you!

  135. jakerman Says:

    And as more people move towards my center part of the spectrum, it makes me wonder why you don’t ever ask why.

    I don’t bother asking why sheep try to move to the centre of the flock when there are wolves circling.

    None of the lukewarmers are funded by outside sources.

    Probably because argumentum ad temperantiam is a logical fallacy, and no basis upon which to conduct real science.

    Well said Bernard. The centre between science and denial is not a useful centre. People practicing argumentum ad temperantiam extermisim are slaves to half measures between the whims of the nuttiest extremes.

  136. jakerman Says:

    None of the lukewarmers are funded by outside sources.

    I suppose there is club where you make this declaration and promise not to lie? Perhaps we could audit the club?

  137. jakerman Says:

    I’m happy Harvey’s here. I just want him to start making sense at some point.

    I remember thinking a similar thing about Darwin’s science when I when I was a child.

  138. Tom Fuller Says:

    We lukewarmers are not in the center. We’ve moved ahead and left you alarmists and the skeptics behind.

  139. jakerman Says:

    We lukewarmers are not in the center. We’ve moved ahead and left you alarmists and the skeptics behind.

    Empty words Tom. Such rhetoric is no substitute for weight of evidence and science Tom.

  140. Tom Fuller Says:

    You just stay in your trench there, jakerman–lob those grenades over the top and tell yourself you’ll be home by Christmas.

  141. jakerman Says:

    Tom Fuller writes:

    And as more people move towards my center part of the spectrum

    Tom Fuller writes:

    We lukewarmers are not in the center.

    Just so we know what type of person we are spend out time “debating” with.

    Carry on Tom.

  142. Tom Fuller Says:

    Now that was a great show–Carry On. Our policies are centrist our position is light years ahead, and our science is accurate. What’s not to like about that? I don’t see much debating from you folks–just feeble snark. If you want to debate, propose a topic and make your pitch.

  143. Sou Says:

    Just reading an article that has some relevance to this discussion (or what this discussion is meant to be about):

    “There are already more than 30 major dams, and over 4,000 weirs in the Murray-Darling Basin. Since the 1880s they’ve been built in a quest to turn ‘water into gold’ by transforming Australia’s unruly stop-start river systems into regular, reliable streams like we’d been used to back in Europe. The amazing engineering feat of locks, weirs, pipes, dams, channels and wheels has changed the face of the Murray River and its floodplains, forever. The consequences for the environment have been disastrous.
    Seasonally, the rivers’ natural flow patterns have been turned on their head. In summer, ecosystems adapted to lower flows and warm water are assailed by dams sending out high flows of cold water. Then in winter, when our environment is primed for floods, dams hold back the rainfall and keep river levels artificially low.

    As ecologist Dr Paul Humphries points out, this means that “our rivers – and the animals and plants that live in them have been exposed to massive climate change for more than 100 years.”

    More here (sign up may be required – no charge):

    http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/dam-stupid

  144. adelady Says:

    Harry “This is the most influential experiment mankind has done so far.”

    Is this another instance of the ‘technology fairy’ coming to the rescue?

  145. jakerman Says:

    Our policies are centrist our position is light years ahead, and our science is accurate.

    Tom Fuller demonstrate what passes for his a with his meme pushing about Arrhenius.

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/open-thread-feb-2011/#comment-11645

  146. Tom Fuller Says:

    You’re the fool that keeps bringing Arrhenius up. Just can’t let that scab alone, can you?

    Guess debate doesn’t interest you. Well, why provide the link only when you can have the benefit of the entire conversation?

    “Furthermore, it is not historically correct that Svante Arrhenius “first suggested in 1896 that… .”In this work Arrheniusreferenced Fourier and Tyndall for their much earlier suggestion that the climate was controlled by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. In this 1896 article he made the first quantitativeestimate of the climate sensitivity [3]. Considering that the spectral results were poorly resolved and otherwise defect, the result 3-4 oC for doubling the concentration of CO2 was amazingly close to the IPCC claims today. However, it is very rarely mentioned that Arrhenius 10 years later published a calculation resulting in a much lower effect of CO2 .

    Carl G. Ribbing
    Professor, Division of Solid State Physics
    The Ångström Laboratory
    Uppsala University, Sweden

    And just remember, jakerman, you’re the one who won’t let the discussion of Arrhenius just fade away…

  147. Tom Fuller Says:

    On to more interesting topics (until jakerman boozily weaves his way back into the conversation): Sou, did Paul Humphreys describe some of the impacts on species?

    With over 800,000 dams in existence and very few watercourses left untouched, this is exactly the area where this conversation should focus.

  148. sidd Says:

    Dr. Verheggen has stated that that discussions of Arrhenius would be more appropriate on another thread, and I feel that as he is our host, we ought oblige.

    Mr. Harry says at 0209 on the 21st of February 2011 that the genome of an endangered species can be archived and then revived. I find the last part difficult. Is it really true that we can replay the gene sequence through gestation in a surrogate mother from a guest host species to create a viable embryo that will come to term as survivable offspring, and is fertile enough to carry on the extinct species ?

    sidd

  149. jakerman Says:

    You’re the fool that keeps bringing Arrhenius up. Just can’t let that scab alone, can you?

    With meme pushers its important to get the facts out on the table.

    Fact: Fuller has not produced any paper from Arrhenius that support his meme. The meme that Fuller started this thread with, and the meme that he again pushed in the biodiversity thread.

  150. PDA Says:

    Discussions of Arrhenius should, I think, be on the open thread.

    I suggest we get back to the only interesting revelation in the last few dozen comments: that “molecular genetics science” has discovered the power of making zombies.

  151. Tom Fuller Says:

    Well, they’re bringing back mammoths, it seems, so Stephen King can have a field day.

  152. dhogaza Says:

    Mr. Harry says at 0209 on the 21st of February 2011 that the genome of an endangered species can be archived and then revived. I find the last part difficult. Is it really true that we can replay the gene sequence through gestation in a surrogate mother from a guest host species to create a viable embryo that will come to term as survivable offspring, and is fertile enough to carry on the extinct species

    The idea there is that if we can’t preserve habitat today, we can carry forward and re-introduce the species in the future when that habitat doesn’t exist, which will … fail.

    Or maybe have a few species in zoos which I suppose some would say equals conservation …

  153. dhogaza Says:

    On to more interesting topics (until jakerman boozily weaves his way back into the conversation)

    Janet’s a “he”? It’s amazing the things I learn from Fuller.

  154. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom fuller and Sidd both seem to keep missing the point that I and others have repeatedly made, that the impacts of climate change are currently barely discernable on species extinction rates, and that other anthropogenic factors are severely impacting species.

    Tom Fuller, with respect to your request for an ordered listing of human impacts on species, I had this conversation years ago on Deltoid with a poster called Lance. UTSE and find out for yourself what I listed, and note the date – I did so years before this thread began (722). And note that back then I made those two points: first, that climate change is currently not the main driver of extinction, and secondly that it has the potential in the near future to exacerbate all other causes, and to surpass them in significance.

    It is that second point that you seem to be reluctant to acknowledge, no doubt because to do so would completely invalidate your current position on global warming.

    Once you find my post I’ll offer my predictions for 2050 and 2100.

    On the matter of Sidd’s use of the Hoffman figures, Jeff Harvey has already pointed out that one should already do so with appropriate consideration. It’s also important to remember that there is great political reluctance to provide adequate funding for ecological work, and the data are almost always not as good as we would like them to be. And the human impact on many species is so severe that many of the numbers become outdated almost as soon as they are published. Further, it is difficult to account for pressures on, and loss of, rare and unidentified species, so in many instances the figures are quite likely underestimates in these areas.

    Further, as I intimated with my comment about the apices of food pyramids, and as Jeff Harvey further explains when he alludes to top-down regulation, our impacts on high trophic-level species have serious consequences for entire ecosystems. These consequences magnify the human impacts, both climatic and non-climatic, on lower trophic levels. Conversely, and has been pointed out many times now, human impacts on climate potentiate our non-climatic impacts on species and on ecosystems. The thing that seems to continually escape Tom Fuller (and now Sidd) is that where the climatic impacts are just now starting to be observed, on the scale of several more decades to several centuries in the future, the effect of climate change on biodiversity will be orders of magnitude greater.

    (Oh, and Sidd, I don’t use “Dr” or “Mr” – just plain Bernard will do.)

    Harry says that warming is good for biodiversity. He fails to mention several pertinent points though, the first being that a warming of around 7 to 12 degrees celcius, entirely achievable by burning fossil fuels, is sufficient to make homoeothermic temperature regulation difficult or impossible in much of the non-polar portion of the planet. So there go a lot of the birds and mammals, including humans . Another significant issue is that the current warming will, on the scale of decades to centuries, severely reduce the planet’s current biodiversity, which is not adapted to high global heat. And it will take evolution millions of years to replace it, so the simplification that warm = biodiversity is just not operational in the current context.

    Hence the “obsession” with rising temperatures…

    And thanks for the lesson on enzymatic activity, Harry. I’d forgotten to mention that – not .

    Further, your comment:

    Ecology is a disaster area of biology, mainly due to these not properly identified problems of human interaction.

    Is just plain fatuous. How do you think these problems have been identified and quantified? By talking to the local bar-keep? If you really think that ecologists have no idea about ecosystems interactions and invasive species impacts, you are obviously not acquainted with the discipline.

    Harry continues:

    As for ecology in general, I would like to suggest that they start using genetic fingerprinting. In this way they can trace the origin of the suddenly invasive species to its genetic source.

    Ah, so Harry has a hammer and every problem is a nail. The thing is, Harry, that ecologists know full-well which currently-available tools to use, and many more than your good self are using the gamut of genetic tests, and for a suite of different reasons beyond the one that you are so fond of. You seem to be peculiarly ignorant of genetic work outside of your own line of sight.

    And yet you know that global warming will have no negative ecological effects…

    I think that Willard has the right of it http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/biodiversity-extinction-climate-change/#comment-11601 . These people are simply trying to transfer onto others – professionals in the disciplnes, no less – their own lack of scientific understanding in order to obfuscate the discussion.

    All I can say as a molecular genetics scientist is that diversity is increasing.

    Oh, on what basis have you determined this? And on what taxonomic levels? And in what ecosystems components?

    And I’ve worked with many mollie bols. The vast majority of postgraduate-qualified ones would not make the claims that you do, but some of the techie level ones might. Perhaps you might care to expand on how your work as a ‘scientist’ actually operates.

    Then there was:

    With this knowledge, we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.

    Sorry, but we molecular biologists, have at this moment G*d like capabilities.

    Come on Harry, why not just say “God”? Why the bashfulness?
    And I am most intrigued to hear from you exactly how we will go from a genome to an embryo, and thence to an independent organism. Please detail all of the steps in between. And once this is achieved, how we then go from one organism to a population of organisms with the requisite MHC and non-immune allelic diversities to provide an ecophysiologically and evolutionarily functional cohort? From where will the non-genetic behaviours and knowledge be learned, that many bird and mammal species pass on to their offspring in their own versions of culture? Without such learned behaviours, which are co-evolved and co-refined with the evolutions of the physiologies of the animals, they are not able to function in their ecosystems.
    I have been a strong advocate of the thylacine resurrection project for exactly two reasons – to demonstrate the technical hurdles that are involved in going from DNA sequence to entire organism, and to illustrate the cost of doing so.
    Reconstructing the genomes of already-extinct species aside, what is it going to take in terms of resources and finances to do this for any significant proportion of the species that already face extinction? How will this mesh with the other costs to humanity that will emerge as peak oil and global warming really start to bite?

    Harry, in my previous life as a biomedical researcher I’ve used with molecular and cell biology techniques. I was even poached once because of my expertise. During my (field-based ecology) PhD I my fellow students included reproductive biologists trying to bank gametes of endangered species for future resurrection. I spent many hours of my own time teaching these people how best to achieve their goals, because I’d previously worked with many of the techniques myself. I am intimately acquainted with the state of the science, and it is nowhere near ready to play the God that you imagine. It can’t even play demigod yet, unless one includes the reconstitution of viruses and bacteria from sequences as godlike power.

    It’s a big step though from viruses and bacteria to functional populations of multiple species in the higher phyla.

    I think that you are labouring under a God delusion.

  155. Sou Says:

    Bernard, I doubt anyone reading this thread believes Harry has the expertise he claims. Nevertheless, it’s useful that you pointed to some of the fallacies.

  156. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard J: “secondly that it has the potential in the near future to exacerbate all other causes, and to surpass them in significance.” It is that second point that you seem to be reluctant to acknowledge, no doubt because to do so would completely invalidate your current position on global warming.

    Fuller (way, way up top there…) “I think that recent efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change are important, but more because potential global warming can serve as a ‘last straw’ for certain portions of a beleaguered environment if it happens too fast.”

    And later, in direct response to one of your ignorant tirades against me, I added, “I do not vehemently disagree that warming will significantly accelerate extinction. I consider it quite likely.

    Nor do I think most scientists fail to understand the relative weights of the factors impacting species’ survival in the present.

    Which is why I react strongly when a few people try to make ‘will accelerate’ read ‘is accelerating’ and redistribute the weights. Because it takes the pressure off of home developers, city planners, distributors of development funds, etc., etc.

    Do I have to use block letters for you? Read carefully, youse:

    Climate change has always added pressure to vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will, too.

    However, as Harvey himself acknowledges, degradation of species viability plays out over a long period of time, longer than the period of noticeable warming due to anthropogenic causes.”

    What a jerk.

    Sorry Bernard J, I don’t patronize the Deltoid website any longer. If you want me to know what you wrote there years ago, UTSE and bring it on over here.

  157. jyyh Says:

    Made a text for sceptical science but I’m too lazy to ref it well, maybe helpful to some.

    Life and global temperature: introduction

    While the physical foundations of greenhouse effect on the planets in the solar system are well defined the earth presents a special case of the greenhouse effect. This is because on planet earth there is an additional element that controls the levels of the greenhouse gases. This element is called life.

    As life can only exist on a quite narrow temperature range, the astronomers talk of the habitable zone within a planetary system, the area of which depends on the star the planets are circulating. If the planet in question has too eccentric an orbit it puts the life on it under considerable stress for the wide temperature range for the radiation changes too much on its orbit. Earth, as we know, hosts life because the parameters of its orbit are such that water may stay in a liquid phase over most of its surface. Presence of liquid water (not an oxymoron, frozen water is called ice for short) is the first requirement for life as we know it.

    As the earth wobbles along its path in space, this introduces changes that life on it cannot affect. The reason for ice ages, f.e. has been identified as being a result of Milankovich cycles. These cycles alter the amount of liquid water on earths surface, particularly on land, so changes in the amount and the areas of life are to be expected.

    “Life consists of carbon, water and assorted elements”, (who said that, can’t recall?) Many of the recognised greenhouse gases have carbon on them as well so life-processes have an effect on the amount of inorganic carbon on the planet’s surface, or where there is life on it, on biosphere.

    The ways of life…
    Life in general, is a self-replicating phenomenon on planets containing carbon and water – with some quirks such as sexual reproduction. The variation in life is produced by the imperfections of this replicative process. The imperfections are a result of internal and environmental factors, which there are many. The point of it is, it tries to stay the same, but cannot because of the material world…(and then quickly out of religious matters) Parts of life have stayed nearly the same for a very long time, one such thing is the photosynthetic machinery of plants.

    Plants (and blue-green algae aka cyanobacteria) have way to take energy for their growth from a source outside the biosphere (the sun). This capability gives them the metaphorical upper hand over any other organisms on the planet. This capability has been suspected to give rise for the coldest period on the planet (the Huronian Glaciation). Only after the development of oxygen consuming organisms the icy planet warmed up to near the present levels. Most of the current life on the planet is either photosynthetic or users of products of photosynthetic organisms. The users can be further divided to oxygen and food consumers and decayers of matter of photosynthetic origin (f.e. anaerobic bacteria). This introduces a three-way balance of types of life over most of the planet surface.

    Three parts of the carbon cycle of life.

    1) CO2 to life

    This is done by the primary producers of life, plants and photosynthetic bacteria. The machinery they use to change the inorganic CO2 to constituents of life consist of several proteins and light-harvesting molecules. (picture of the whole photosynthetic complex, that is, Photosystems I and II)

    As can be seen even simplified image is complex. In fact it is so complex scientists only recently (199x?) managed to accurately describe the structure. Complex structures are not easily preserved, so the machinery is susceptible to many destabilizing influences, such as heat, too low or high salinity, variations in the pH (the acidity-basicity) and even the type of radiation the light-harvesting complex receives. Some boundaries for life to exist can be set by these attributes. (some of those I listed on the runaway greenhouse discussion, have to check those).

    The leaves of plants (where this machinery is located) are subject to wide variety of other factors originating from other parts of life. The issue wether a plant can do what it’s meant to do depends on other life present in the location it is, the habitat. (and now the story could enter the ecology)

    2) life to CO2
    This is mainly from biological processes of animals and humans, which is quite uninteresting in respect to global carbon budget… not. The second part of this are the decomposers of matter of plant origin, such as some fungi and soil bacteria.

    3) organic carbon to inorganic
    the other interesting part of the cycle in addition to 1). This is mainly done in the terminal ecosystems on various places on earth. By a terminal ecosystem I mean the last organisms eating the last remains of the food disposed in the ecosystem. Then they die and their remains get buried by geological processes. Mainly this happens on anaerobic locations such as bog bottoms and ocean bottom. This process has given the idea for ocean fertilizing with iron. The biochar process also takes from this, if I’ve understood it correctly, the aim here is to introduce carbon-containing molecules that would decompose in anaerobic conditions but on airy soils they withstand much longer.

    the 4th part of the carbon cycle 4) inorganic to CO2 is done by human culture (or volcanoes)

  158. jyyh Says:

    There should have been a segment after that which would have described the normal average reproductive rates and dispersal ability of pathogenic fungi and pests against food plants and a bit of the watery environment that would have said the algae will have it hard if water temperature rises above 40 degrees, but again, I had lost most of the refs tracking the facts down.

  159. Jeff Harvey Says:

    If Harry is a molecular biologist, writing in the grade-school style that he does, than I am the King of Persia…

    He writes, “Sorry, but we molecular biologists, have at this moment G*d like capabilities”.

    Really? Perhaps this explains why the genomes of only about 5 species of plants have been sequenced so far, with the most important one being Arabidopsis thaliana, a small innocuous weed with an extremely simple genome. Why hasn’t the field of genomics as of yet sequenced entire genomes of 99.999999% of plants and animals?

    Moreover, genetic modification is an extremely basic process. Using a gene gun, genetic material from a donor organism is ‘fired’ into the genome of the recipient, where it could end up anywhere. Hardly high tech.

    Harry, you are a joker. Cut out the kindergarten level histrionics if you want to be taken seriously by me. The fact that you do not understand what ecosystem services are tells me all I need to know about your ‘expertise’. All of the molecular biologists I know certainly take the improtance of nature seriously, and do not think that humans in any way are exempt from nature’s laws. So please refrain from any more comedy here.

    With respect to change, of course there is nothing wrong with it – within certain boundaries. But humans are inflicting changes in complex adaptive systems that exceed anything naturally occurring within hundreds of thousands or millions of years. We are driving the biggest mass extinction since the end of the Cretaceous period. If you had any inkling of the importance of scale, you’d understand this.

    Harry finishes with this howler: “All I can say as a molecular genetics scientist is that diversity is increasing”

    What about functional diversity? Diversity that is essential to the functioning and maintenance of ecosystems? Has ‘your field’ (I say this loosely because you have not convinced me in any way that you are a scientist as a qualified scientist would not speak such utter gibberish) genetically produced organisms involved in pollination, seed dispersal, pest control, nutrient cycling, maintenance of soil fertility, purification of water, climate control et. al. – services that emerge from natural systems and sustain humanity? Of course not, nor are they ever likely to. The fact that you apparently have never heard to the term ‘ecosystem services’ – one which is at the center of nature management, research and the 2006 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment – tells me that you aren’t the qualified scientist you want us all to believe. If you want to continue discussing issues with me, drop the pretexts and start making sense.

  160. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Mr Harvey
    Your ignorance is showing. Biologists have sequenced the genome of C.elegans, a small worm with a few cells in its body. Does that mean the insights gained are insubstantial just because “it is just a worm”.

    Your long posts are riven with personal attacks and unfounded arrogance. Your statements about the Amazon are exaggerated and speculative, for example, and their ecophilosophical underpinnings have gone virtually unchallenged. Please do not think that only those who are responding to you are watching on.

  161. Dave H Says:

    @Shub Niggurath

    > Your ignorance is showing

    > unfounded arrogance.

    Oh, the irony.

  162. J Bowers Says:

    Shub —

    “Mr Harvey
    Your ignorance is showing. Biologists have sequenced the genome of C.elegans, a small worm with a few cells in its body. Does that mean the insights gained are insubstantial just because “it is just a worm”.”

    Nope. It’s because it’s not a plant.

    Read Jeff Harvey’s post again, Shub (paragraph 3).

  163. Michael Says:

    Jeff Harvey,

    Thanks for the always informative posts.

  164. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    Time for you to ‘shubble away’ into the sunset.

    Please explain in your infinite wisdom why my comments about the Amazon are ‘exaggerated and speculative’. On what grounds? And what on Earth do you mean by ‘ecophilosophical underpinnings’? Please explain this rather meaningless remark.

    C. elegans is an innocuous nematode, again with a simple genome. What I said stands.
    Furthermore, we may have mapped many genes but we still do not have a clue how most of them function. The field of molecular biology is still in its infancy.

    Lastly, shub, your web site is a real comic relief. On your climate thread links you list Bishop Hill, The Reference frame and James Delingpole, as well as Climate Depot. What this shows is that you are to be ignored.

  165. willard Says:

    Speaking of Arrhenius, courtesy of Vaughan Pratt:

    http://thue.stanford.edu/killamo.pdf

  166. Tom Fuller Says:

    Aw, shucks. Harvey went all party line on us again. Ah, well, at least we can see it was almost possible to have a discussion about the issues.

    Maybe next incarnation.

  167. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Jeff, you forgot to mention the apropos title of his blog:

    Shub Niggurath Climate
    A complete distortion of the facts

    Hits the nail on the head.

  168. Tom Fuller Says:

    My thoughts about preserving the biodiversity remaining on this planet are fairly simple:

    1. Policy that encourages urbanization density. Right now, over half the people on this planet live in cities that cover 3% of the land surface. This should be considered a good beginning, especially as most projected population growth is expected to be absorbed by the cities. However, given that only 2% of the population is required for modern agriculture, there should be room for improvement. Policies that make 3rd world cities more liveable, safe and sanitary can decrease pressure on the land.

    2. It is time to renegotiate the law of the sea. Fortunately we have a good excuse that will appeal to conservatives in rampant piracy. Let’s take advantage of this to finally appoint conservators for individual fish species that have czar-like abilities to establish fishing regulations that keep the health of the fish paramount. Establish a multinational compensation fund that helps countries wean themselves off of their over-supplied and over-mechanized fishing fleets and just put them out of business slowly.

    3. Focus some element of scientific research on creating best practices and standards for sustainable fish farms. Create sustainable certification standards and labeling. Focus more on rewarding winners than punishing losers–many bad fish farm practices are the result of poverty more than anything else.

    4. Introduce best of breed agricultural practices to insure that needed agricultural product comes from better practices, not more land coming under the plough. Start at the geographic margins and work inwards, as it is at the margins that expansion of farms into new territory happens. Refine the food distribution system to reduce wastage, introduce GMOs liberally, etc.

    If you want to protect other species, you must start by removing the need to harm them by improving the lot of the species that is threatening them. That would be us.

  169. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Jeff
    I think you are a prominent researcher (from your own account). So, I don’t think I need to explain what the phrase ‘ecophilosophical underpinnings’ means.

    C.elegans and A.thaliana are *not* simple weeds and worms. So what you said to Harry does not stand. You could have made a better argument if you wanted to refute his ‘Godlike’ argument.

    Your points about Amazonian ‘tipping points’, specifically, are exaggerations and speculations. But then, I don’t suppose you should not be blamed for that – the literature in this area is of such a nature. There are some unfounded statements and the very common technique of casually mixing attributional statements of different kinds together.

    And then lastly, your comments about my blog are funny. Thanks for visiting.

  170. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Rattus
    Thanks, also, for visiting. I hope you sampled some of the distortion and found it to your liking.

  171. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Fuller,

    As I said, your witless quips aside, if you want to discuss the functional importance of biodiversity, I am more than happy to.

    I don’t quite get your dumb remark though about me adopting the party line: this suggests that you think Harry’s and Shub’s comments actually made sense. The former claimed that people working in genomics were ‘Godlike'; the latter (with no supporting empirical evidence) claimed that the effects of two recent massive droughts on the Amazon are ‘ exaggerated’. This is in contrast with the opinion of the world’s leading expert on the region, Daniel Nepstad. Hmm. Who do I believe – a climate change denying web pundit or an authority on tropical forests? It should not be too hard. Yet you give the impression that I am being unfair. What gives?

    By the way, I agree with your points 1-4 above. I will suggest some ideas along this theme later.

    Shub: the genome of Arabidopsis is exceedingly simple. I have several friends who are molecular biologists working on the plant and they would totally agree with me. This is the reason it is the ‘model’ system in plant biology. An innocuous little weed with a very short life cycle that grows between paving stones and in disturbed sites. A plant with a life cycle that is completed in about two months. I’d be more impressed with the field if they had sequenced the genomes of redwood trees and bowhead whales. In other words, there is a long, long way to go before we can say that genomics is an ‘advanced’ science.

    As for being a prominent researcher or not, I leave my colleagues in my field of research to decide that.

  172. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Mr/Dr Harvey
    Your opinion of the level of advancement of the state of the art in genomics and molecular biology is very tangential to any present ecology argument. Why don’t we just let it go? In order for it to make any sense, there has to be some indication that you grasped the rhetorical point which Harry was making which is presently lacking. Your views about genome ‘simplicity’ and the weediness of Arabidopsis make no sense. I think you got your ecologist feathers ruffled by Harry and are being combative since.

    It would hardly be accurate to say that the ‘field of genomics’ has not studied redwoods and so ‘genomics’ is not advanced. You can do genomics in many fields.

    Trying to talk about things like ‘functional importance’ of ‘biodiversity’ is like trying to talk about the ‘functional importance’ of the kidney in the human body. We’ll only get mired in teleology.

    I am now more bouyed by my initial characterization of your Amazon statements as exaggerations. Your derivation of substantiveness of argument from the authority of Dan Nepstad supports this position.

  173. Bart Says:

    Comments re Arrhenius, Shub’s blog, the partyline, or whatever else besides biodiversity effects, should go to the open thread (I removed two recent examples of this). Just bickering for bickering’s sake shouldn’t be put in a comment here at all.

    Thanks for cooperating…

  174. Harry Says:

    Jeff does obviously not read his scientific literature in time.

    From NCBI:
    1079 Eukaryotic Genome Sequencing Projects Selected: Complete – 41, Assembly – 386, In Progress – 652
    when searching for plant genomes. And with the currently available 454 pyrosequencing systems, things are just getting faster and faster. Dataprocessing is currently our main bottleneck, the algorithms are just not able to cope with long repetive sequences, which has delayed the sequencing of Lilium longiflorum into frustration..

    Maybe he does not like my style of writing, me appently being undergraduate. But he sounds quite petulant evoking the like of my reply. It is always the same scheme: if one disagrees with their visions, the first think that happens to one is ridicule.

    You can be certain that I know what I am talking about. But I am no ecologist, heaven be thanked! I have been developing genetic tracing tools for ecology for more than 20 years now, and some of the things I suggested/developed are now in wide use. No thanks please.

  175. Harry Says:

    Sorry Tom, I seem to have captured the flag from you ;))

  176. jakerman Says:

    Harvey the party line as practiced here by functional idiots like jakerman and dhogaza is that anybody that disagrees with any tenet espoused by the climate change establishment is evil, can contribute nothing, must be attacked on every point always.

    Making stuff up again I see Tom. The party line practiced by me is exposing your untruths, e.g. showing your there is data when you claim their is none. Showing you evidence when you deny there is any. Exposing the basis of memes and making explicit your unreliable sources.

    Your re-write here is another example on your unreliability.

    Carry on Mr Tom “our science is accurate” Fuller.

  177. jakerman Says:

    The party line practiced by (some might say “functional idiots” like) Fuller is to push memes from unreliable sources, make up stuff and deny data and evidence.

  178. Harry Says:

    @jakerman,

    what has the party line to do with global warming and biodiversity?

    Illuminate me, please.

  179. jakerman Says:

    Harry, ask Tom, its his term, I was responding to his framing.

  180. jakerman Says:

    Harry in terms of my practice the “party line” I am referring is the line concerned with good practice, reference to evidence and not making stuff up.

  181. Harry Says:

    @Jeff,

    as for the incompetence of the field of molecular genetics:

    Did you know that 80% of all cotton plants in China have been genetically engineered with the Bt Cry1, Cry2 and/or Cry 4 toxins? Have you considered the ecological impact of such an enormous change in the ecosystem of a cotton monoculture, and its impact on the environment?

    The main conclusion from a recent study was that due to the genetic modification, at least 1000 farmers did not die last year due to exposure to toxic chemicals, which were used before the introduction of the ball worm resistant cotton.

  182. Chris S. Says:

    Perhaps Harry or shub could tell me which crop plants have been sequenced yet (i.e. the ones where sequencing will give a distinct economic advantage through improving lines)?
    Perhaps they could tell me why agricultural scientists are still working on A. thaliana and transferring the knowledge gained to crop plants – is it just the short life cycle?

  183. Harry Says:

    @Jeff,

    And the introduction of these cotton varieties coincided with climatic high temperatures (not climate). The question now is: were the introductions caused by high temperatures? Were the consequnces of this massive introduction of ecosystem disrupting plants causing global warming? Or was the introduction of these plants caused by global warming? Was the existing ecosystem an artifact due to yearlong massive chemical spraying? Or was it all coincidence?

    Questions, questions.

  184. Harry Says:

    @Chis,

    Go to NCBI, select

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/genome

    select
    Eukaryota
    Select
    all plants

    and voila!

    But due a problem with my browser,

    I have to correct my previous claim:
    This is the correct state of the art at this moment:

    142 Eukaryotic Genome Sequencing Projects Selected: Complete – 6, Assembly – 30, In Progress – 106

    Sorry for this.

  185. Harry Says:

    @Chris (sorry for mispelling your name in my previous post),

    The reason we are still working with “An innocuous little weed with a very short life cycle that grows between paving stones and in disturbed sites.”
    is as follows:

    We know the entire genomic DNA composition. (It has one of the smallest genomes known for a plant)
    We know how to insert genes from other organisms into its genome and still grow a plant.
    We know that it has a short generation time, so we can test progeny.
    In making progeny, we can combine two (or more) genes that we cannot introduce simultaneously by genetic modification. And we ca study the infuence of each of these genes individually, or in any combination. Our hallmark result was a plant which combined four genes.

    We know the entire metabolite profile of this plant, so we can screen whatever happens due to the insertion of foreign genes.

    We know the entire proteome of this plant, so we can map changing interactions between proteins due to the insertion of a foreign gene.

    I hope this answer was sufficient for your question, if not, do not hesitate to ask. I will be glad to try to answer.

    There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.

  186. Harry Says:

    Beste Jeff,

    zullen we morgen even samen lunchen in het Forum? ik zit aan de overkant van de weg.

    MVG
    Harry

  187. Harry Says:

    @Jeff:

    Correctie: het is al vandaag. ;)

  188. Sou Says:

    @ Harry and others, my reading of what Jeff Harvey was saying was that genomics is in its infancy and there is a long way to go in the field before it can be considered advanced.

    Both Harry and Jeff Harvey have provided evidence to support what Jeff has said.

  189. Harry Says:

    @Sou,

    Is it important?

    Consider this:

    If genetics would now be in in its infancy, what can we expect?

    Once advanced what could we expect? Horror?

  190. Dave H Says:

    @Harry

    You’re going off on a massive tangent. Unless you were actually serious when you implied that genome sequencing is a viable solution to mass extinction?

  191. Harry Says:

    Dear Dave H,

    I personally think that genome sequencing is not only a means to solve mass extinction, it could also bring about the restoration of lost species.
    Think about it: what was the definition of a lost species? Its coded DNA.

    Mind challenge: can you describe the morphological differences between a chicken and a T.Rex?

    You will have a hard time, I guarantee.

    The conclusion can only be that the difference between a chicken and T.rex, is only two or three transcription factors. Which elude us at this moment. Once found….

  192. Sou Says:

    +1 – what Dave said. The context of Jeff’s comment was in the context of your comment:

    “With this knowledge, we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.

    Sorry, but we molecular biologists, have at this moment G*d like capabilities.”

    GM should help in adapting food, feed and fibre crops for the changing climate. I doubt genomics will recreate an Amazon rainforest, and wonder what good it would do in any case, because if the Amazon goes, the climate will change even more.

  193. sturat Says:

    Arrgh! Isn’t there anyway to send you-know-who off to the borehole or allow an individual to hide his stupid inputs!

    Perhaps institute what Kate has done and replace his comments with admonitions to stay on topic and/or provide citations.

    At least could we practice shunning him by never replying our acknowledging his existence. Attention is all he wants and feeds on.

    Stuart

  194. Harry Says:

    @Sou,

    You are completely missing the narrative. How stupid do you want to be?

  195. Sou Says:

    Harry is trying to shift the focus from ecology and biodiversity to genetic coding of individual species. Then he makes the leap that anyone who points out that his idea that genomics will recreate the natural world in all its biodiversity is a bit ‘out there’ – to a put-down of genomics.

    On the contrary, I think genomics is a very important area of research for many reasons. At the same time, Harry’s inference that it will resurrect extinct species and therefore save biodiversity shrinkage is absurd.

  196. Harry Says:

    Sou,

    you are contorting my ideas, as you are probably aware of. I was merely showing that new technologies would be able to extend the biodiversity.

  197. Harry Says:

    @Sou,

    You are trolling. Go home. Bury yourself under your stone, or the stone markewd Dhogaza!@

  198. Sou Says:

    @ Harry – if that was what you were trying to say then I’ll point out that it’s not what I or others read you as saying.

    In any case, biodiversity is shrinking much too rapidly for any efforts to extend biodiversity through genomics, presumably either through resurrecting extinct species or modifiying existing ones or even creating new ones, to have virtually no impact on overall biodiversity at all, let alone any positive impact on the interactions (food webs etc) that Jeff Harvey and Bernard were discussing.

  199. Harry Says:

    @ Sou,

    Do you have proof for your claims? Even Nature or Science do not endorse your claim. And that is telling!

  200. Sou Says:

    Should read: to have virtually any impact on overall biodiversity at all

  201. Sou Says:

    @ Harry – what claims? That biodiversity is shrinking? Read the thread and the references provided.

  202. Harry Says:

    Sou,

    This is not the way I am going to start any form of discussion with you.

  203. Harry Says:

    Sou,

    You are a complete ignorant troll on this site. I wil NOT respond to anything you want to mention.

    Get IT?

  204. jakerman Says:

    genome sequencing is not only a means to solve mass extinction, it could also bring about the restoration of lost species.

    Were do you imagine you going to put the fantastic resurrected species? How are you going to pay for it? What level of certainty do you have in the practicality of this fantastic idea?

  205. jakerman Says:

    Sou, how could you?

    ;)

  206. Harry Says:

    jakerman:

    Have you studied what a mister Craig Venter has been doing recently? Do you understand what he is up to? I do not think so, since you are dumb.

    I wish you well with your approved dumbness.

  207. Sou Says:

    Harry said: “I wil NOT respond to anything you want to mention.”
    Drat – and I was angling for a lunch invitation :)

  208. jakerman Says:

    Harry writes:

    This is a complete nonsense debate. As if the degree of biodiversity is a measure for the vigour of life on this planet.

    Biodiversity is one of the measures of the vigour of life on this planet.

  209. jakerman Says:

    Harry, I get that you want to call me “dumb” and that sort of answers my question:

    Were do you imagine you going to put the fantastic resurrected species? How are you going to pay for it? What level of certainty do you have in the practicality of this fantastic idea?

    You either have an answer that you chose not to share or you don’t yet have an answer. Either way it sets the context for this discussion.

  210. Steven Sullivan Says:

    Harry wrote:
    “It may be worth noticing that we can currently determine the complete genomic sequence of your endangered species for less than 40k$. With this knowledge, we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.”

    Um, no, Harry, genome sequence in hand is not a guarantee that you can resurrect a species. Consider the role of epigenetic factors. Consider the role of polymorphism. Consider that sequenced genomes of eukaryotes are rarely 100% complete. These are things which you would know about if you were really a ‘molecular genetics scientist’.

  211. Steven Sullivan Says:

    Harry wrote again:
    “I personally think that genome sequencing is not only a means to solve mass extinction, it could also bring about the restoration of lost species.
    Think about it: what was the definition of a lost species? Its coded DNA.”

    Wrong.

  212. Harry Says:

    @Steven,
    I know al these things, please I am working in a sequencing factory, you nitwits?

    We were one of the first groups to to draw attention to epigenetic modification? I really do not agree with you. We were 10 to 20 years ahead of what you are now saying. And we still are.

  213. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harry–don’t you understand? These people do not want a solution.

    They have a vested interst in the problem.

  214. Sou Says:

    @ jakerman, Harry has already made it plain to me that he will NOT respond to any reference to the scientific literature. I won’t be at all surprised if he chooses not to respond to your query in a sensible fashion either, particularly in the light of Steven Sullivan’s posts above.

  215. jakerman Says:

    “It may be worth noticing that we can currently determine the complete genomic sequence of your endangered species for less than 40k$. With this knowledge, we would be able to resurrect this species from the dead, once it became extinct.”

    What will it cost to collect the genes of all endagered species? What costs you estimate resurecting each speicies? What cost for reconstructing its ecosystem? What cost to buy the land back? A billion $ per-species roughly? Is this in the ball park? Too high, too low?

    I suppose then we could destroy the ecosytems to pay for their resurection?

  216. jakerman Says:

    Tom shows a lack of discernment. What’s cheaper Tom, preservation or resurrection?

  217. Sou Says:

    Now if Tom had written – “These people have a vested interest in better *defining* the problems, as does everyone on earth; so as to encourage more immediate action to address the problems with solutions.” – I would have agreed with him.

  218. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Harry is truly amazing. He makes claims that genomics has “God like powers” and then shows that there are currently 142 projects involved in sequencing plants. About what I would expect if this area of biological science was in it’s infancy. You have reinforced Jeff Harvey’s point.

    Not that I am denigrating genomics. This is an incredibly important area of research and will have big payoffs in the future, especially for economically important species, as we learn the functions of genes and how they interact with existing species. But if you are expecting the data you have provided to show that genomics is a highly advanced science with godlike powers? Give me a break.

    And the fact that you couldn’t use the interface to your chosen source makes me wonder at your qualifications. It looks like your numbers were for all eukarotes, which is is stronger evidence against your claims, both to knowledge and power.

    And yes I am familiar, on a popular level with what Venter is currently working on. It is interesting, but really it is just a baby step. There is no doubt that it is important, but it is just the first step on a very long road.

  219. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    I should probably add that I have added to the OT bits on this thread. What Harry is arguing adds nothing to the debate about ecosystem services:

    Nutrient cycling
    Flood control
    Water purification
    Waste disposal
    Carbon fixing
    Pollination

    And numerous other services.

  220. jeff Id Says:

    Again, really no time to defend myself, although Harvey’s comments are far to altruistic and definite to be ‘scientific’. It is too bad really but I can’t take on every activist in the same life

    I will come back in the next few days but more important things today. Thanks for the opportunity Bart, and I’m sorry to let you down right now. You wouldn’t even believe what I’m trying to do.

  221. jakerman Says:

    Jeff Id, no time to make a scientific argument instead opt for an unscientifc opinion.

    Harvey’s comments are far to altruistic and definite to be ‘scientific’.

    Jeff Id you shouldn’t have bothered until you had something supportable to say.

  222. jakerman Says:

    Speaking of unsupported and “definite”:

    A warmer world will produce more food, biodiversity and a nice place for people and critters to live.

  223. Paul Kelly Says:

    Away from net access last week. Before reading the 221 comments, I ask if any there is a determination of the percentage of extinctions attributable to CO2 or human caused climate change compared to other known or suspected factors? Apologies if this has already been answered.

  224. Tom Fuller Says:

    But people are going to do genome recovery anyway for extinct species. Heck, they already are. It only makes sense to look at the same techniques for threatened or even vulnerable species.

    Unless you actually think that people will say that if we have the genome it’s okay to lose the species, this kind of backup just makes sense.

  225. Tom Fuller Says:

    Paul, Sidd at 23:09 yesterday says a paper by Hoffman supports my very casual finger in the wind guess of 1% for climate change. He wrote: Fig S7 in the Hoffman paper also help answer some of Mr. Tom Fuller’s question about ranking of stressors to biodiversity. I have given the numbers for Climate change+extreme weather, and fire habitat change. For the others posited by Mr. Fuller, the ratio of species deteriorating to total number of endangered:

    Hunting: Birds 31/233, Mammals:62/171, Amphibians:37/456
    Pollution:6,0,5 (same denominators)
    Introduction of invasive species:32,9,208
    Habitat loss: This is divided into several sub categories, please see the paper

    Note: There are actually species improving as well due to hunting, pollution(!)…

    I do recommend that we all read the paper, for those without a subscription to Science, please note that the abstract, figures and supplementary materials are free, and the graph I am transcribing is in the supplementary materials.

    I think even Bernard J sort of went along with that for the present. I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m mistaken. Or even if I’m not.

  226. jakerman Says:

    Which discussion are joining Tom? Are you refering to Harry’s calims about genome sequencing being a practical means to solve mass extinction?

  227. Steven Sullivan Says:

    I’m a PhD biologist who works with genomes daily. For those wondering: most economically important plants you can think of — ranging from corn to eucalyptus trees — have a genome-scale sequencing project in progress or planned’. These projects range from sequencing all of the genomic DNA, to sequencing just the parts that code for proteins and RNAs (the ‘transcriptome’) , to ‘surveys’ of the genome (sampling it). (There’s also dozens of not hundreds of projects devoted to sequencing ‘plastid’ genomes — the chloroplast mini-genomes found in all plant species.) The commercial interest and funding is there for much of this because it’s a lot easier in general to manipulate plant genomes than animal genomes. The idea is to build ‘better’ versions of such organisms by selective introduction of desirable genes — a much easier prospect than revive extinct species whole.

    Few if any researchers are sequencing genomes with the latter aim, and besides, the idea of DNA as a ‘blueprint’ for a species is a simplification, as all modern biologists know. For vertebrates, species revival only ‘works’ if you have a closely-related living species that can supply an viable egg into which the reconstituted DNA can be packaged. You hope that the environment therein is close enough to generate a good simulacrum of the extinct species’ histone code, methylation pattern, chromatin structure, and other ‘epigenetic’ influences — basically, things that help turn the right genes on and off at the right times, to reproduce the ‘extinct’ phenotype. And even then, you’re creating a hybrid: the mitochondrial DNA is that of the ‘host’ species. You’re also going to have to generate male and female, and generate some genetic diversity, if you want to revive a viable *population*, not just a clonal or highly inbred population vulnerable to disease. And of course recreating a multi-species ecological web that a population needs to thrive would be daunting at best, especially if any niches no longer exist. And it would an interesting nature-vs-nurture experiment to see if social behaviors of extinct species can be ‘revived’ too.

    Right now we’re not even close to all that on a ‘production’ scale required to restore large numbers of extinct species — the ‘godlike’ power required. Knowledge of DNA sequence alone certainly won’t get you there.

  228. J Bowers Says:

    Rapid poleward range expansion of tropical reef corals in response to rising sea surface temperatures. Yamano et al (2011). GRL.

    We show the first large-scale evidence of the poleward range expansion of modern corals, based on 80 years of national records from the temperate areas of Japan, where century-long measurements of in situ sea-surface temperatures have shown statistically significant rises. Four major coral species categories, including two key species for reef formation in tropical areas, showed poleward range expansions since the 1930s, whereas no species demonstrated southward range shrinkage or local extinction. The speed of these expansions reached up to 14 km/year, which is far greater than that for other species. Our results, in combination with recent findings suggesting range expansions of tropical coral-reef associated organisms, strongly suggest that rapid, fundamental modifications of temperate coastal ecosystems could be in progress.

    H/T to AGW Observer.

  229. Chris S. Says:

    J Bowers: I’ll see your polewards expansion and raise you a trophic level asynchrony :)

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02165.x/full

    Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Thackeray et al. (2010) Global Change Biology

    …We present a standardized assessment of 25 532 rates of phenological change for 726 UK terrestrial, freshwater and marine taxa. The majority of spring and summer events have advanced, and more rapidly than previously documented. Such consistency is indicative of shared large scale drivers. Furthermore, average rates of change have accelerated in a way that is consistent with observed warming trends. Less coherent patterns in some groups of organisms point to the agency of more local scale processes and multiple drivers. For the first time we show a broad scale signal of differential phenological change among trophic levels; across environments advances in timing were slowest for secondary consumers, thus heightening the potential risk of temporal mismatch in key trophic interactions…

  230. Chris S. Says:

    Harry, thanks Steven Sullivan answered my first question a lot better. As for my second question – you gave a full answer but failed to tell me why any of this cannot be done on crop plants as yet – given the godlike powers of genome sequencing.

  231. Jeff Harvey Says:

    I have a simple question for Harry: how will molecular biology as a scientific discipline resurrect entire destroyed ecosystems? Even if the technology existed, as Steven elegantly said, it still has a long way to go. But that does not answer my question: where are the ‘resurrected’ species going to live? They have to have viable habitat, in the case of species at the terminal end of the food chain, large expanses of it.

    As a busy scientist, I am actually embarrassed to be involved in such a silly debate with a few of the contrubutors here (they know who they are). Until we accept that there are vast numbers of UNKNOWNS in understanding the relative contribution of various anthropogenic stresses to the environment, then we are going nowhere. I can appreciate this working from the inside; others appear to want ‘definitive’ answers and statistics. The 1-99 percent figure bandied about by Tom Fuller is meaningless. I do not want to waste my time on such pedantics.

    To reiterate, and for the last time: rapid climate change could not be happening at a worse time. To partially quote Michael Soule: massive changes such as those occurring and projected to occur would have been less disastrous for biological diversity and integrity if they had occurred in the past. a century and more ago, when the world was less dominated and travered by humans, organisms would have had a better chance of adapting to rapidly increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and unpredictable changes in precipitation regimes. teh situation was much less severe because in most biomes and regions the biosphere was still largely seamless; the number of humans was far less than today – about one person alive for every 6 now. There were also differences in technology: a hundred years ago bulldozers, chain saws, power plants, freeways, autmobiles, high tech weapons, and other gadgets were unimagined. Though some parts of the world ahd already ben significantly denatured, the tropics were largely unplundered, either by hunters, loggers or developers with bulldozers. Highway construction, logging, damming, overhunting, overfishing, overgrazing, acid rain, ozone depletion and eutrophication, all characterisitics of modern society, were terribly new threats.

    A century or more ago, expected increased in temperature and rainfall would have also led to profoundly significant ecological changes, but the situation would not have been so nearly as bleak as it is today for flora and fauna or for humanity, in the longer term. For one thing, man-made physical barriers were much less ubitquitous. A century plus ago, few dams would have prevented the movements of aquaitic organisms up and down rivers. The Tennessee River ‘is’nt’ a river anymore, but a series of lakes interspersed by dams. These have drive at least 7 species of fish to extinction, at least in that river basin. Humans had also cleared relatively little low and tropical areas, so that their biota could move freely over coastal plains and between mountain ranges. In such places as central and South America, especially eastern Brazil, the foothills of the Andes, as well as central and southern Africa, most of Madagascar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, areas with significant topographic relief – the habitats were largely unsettled. Today these lands have been dramtcially usurped by humans.

    If rapid climate change had occurred under these relatively benign consitions, many, perhaps most species could have adjusted, especially thgose in regions such as those described above. Much of the lowland biota could still have found suitable habitat in the foothills of mountainous regions. Now, however, many wild areas have disappeared, and lowland species are prevented from reaching mountain slopes that are already occupied by reservoirs, highways, farms, plantations and towns. Now, consider the consequences of climate change for the future. For the sake of simplicity, assume that the human and environmental conditions are the same as they are today. Further, assume that science and technology have progressed normally. Would the management expertise and biological technology of 2100 be sufficiently advanced to dela with the exceedingly severe projections anticipated by most of the scientific community with respect to warming? In some ways, to give Harry some credit, they would. There is little doubt that advances in biotechnology and conservation will have brought more advanced and economical ways of protecting species and ecosystems from massive extinction and loss of functionality.

    Themost important point is that our knowledge today is insufficiwent to construct and manage a comprehensive biodiversity system. In addtion, corruption, profound disparities in social justice and wealth distribution, political immaturity, and instability are exacerbating the current crisis. The disparities I allude to above both within and between nations have the tendency of destabilizing the conservation infrastructure. Despite the clarion calls of ‘gravy trains’ from the political right, there certain is not enough funding to fully understand the signficance of various threats on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and how this realtes to the welfare of both humanity and the riotous diversity of flora and fauna with which we share the planet. We need more detailed data on ecological processes, biogeography, genetics, behavior, physiology, systematcis, restoration, sociology and economics, all of which are intimately tied together. Most importantly, we currently lack the knowledge to successfully confront the effects of the combined human assault on nature. In the end, monies spent on the research programs described above are a small fraction of the military budget of the Unted States. But, as I have said many times on Deltoid, ecology is the most complex of the life sciences because of the non-linear relationship between cause and effect.

    That’s it folks. If people like Harry, Jeff Id and Tom Fuller want to learn a little about the field of ecology, then they need to read a lot of material in books and peer-reviewed journals. Because what I see them doing here is dragging the debate down to the lowest common denominator. And, to be honest, I just do not have time for this. I can only repeat the same arguments so many times, only to have them dismissed repeatedly.

  232. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Harry,

    Certainly we can meet in the Forum: how about Wednesday? But you will need to send me an email at my NIOO address so that I know who you are.

  233. jakerman Says:

    where are the ‘resurrected’ species going to live? They have to have viable habitat, in the case of species at the terminal end of the food chain, large expanses of it.

    Proof that ecology is far “far to altruistic and definite to be ‘scientific’”.

    ;)

  234. Jeff Harvey Says:

    From Joe Romm today:

    http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/21/uks-chief-scientific-adviser-criticizes-journalists-wilfully-misusing-science/#more-43166

    Hear, hear! This exactly why I expend the effort to write ripostes to what I see as wilful ignorance being peddled in discussion forums on science blogs. I don’t really have the time, but I try and counter misinterpretations and distortions when I see them. Even on scientific friendly sites such as this and Deltoid, there are individuals who write in with complete and utter gibberish. I rarely check in with sites like WUWT of CA these days, because IMO the comments pages are filled by comments from deniers that lack scientific credibility. Its painful to read. I’ll stick with what I perceive to be ‘the good guys': Tim Lambert, Eli Rabett, Bart here, John Quiggen, Greenfyre, Joe Romm, the RC team and others.

  235. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dear Dr Jeff Harvey
    You are busy. That is exactly why you did not grasp the rhetorical point that Harry was probably trying to make – it was as much about the godlike-ness of modern molecular biology as it was about the ‘impotence’ of a largely observational discipline as ecology. You don’t have the time for it. Online discussions are like that – always easy with those who agree with you, on some basis at least.

    People *are* familiar with ecology and ecologists’ work. I hope you find the time to read a few tracts on critiques of ecophilosophical thinking and deep ecology.

  236. Bernard J. Says:

    Harry.

    I raised several issues quite a number of posts back ((21 February 2011, at 08:47)), to which you have not offered anything by way of response:

    All I can say as a molecular genetics scientist is that diversity is increasing.

    Oh, on what basis have you determined this? And on what taxonomic levels? And in what ecosystems components?

    I’m in a lather of curiosity to know upon what basis you made your original statement about the increasing of biodiversity, and on what levels this increase is occurring.

    Please answer these questions, and provide sufficient detail to support your claim, else I will be forced to believe that you are making incorrect statements…

    Another of the issues that I raised previously was the manner in which extinct species resurrection would be conducted. In case you have forgotten these questions also, permit me to refresh your memory:

    …I am most intrigued to hear from you exactly how we will go from a genome to an embryo, and thence to an independent organism. Please detail all of the steps in between. And once this is achieved, how we then go from one organism to a population of organisms with the requisite MHC and non-immune allelic diversities to provide an ecophysiologically and evolutionarily functional cohort? From where will the non-genetic behaviours and knowledge be learned, that many bird and mammal species pass on to their offspring in their own versions of culture? Without such learned behaviours, which are co-evolved and co-refined with the evolutions of the physiologies of the animals, they are not able to function in their ecosystems.

    I have been a strong advocate of the thylacine resurrection project for exactly two reasons – to demonstrate the technical hurdles that are involved in going from DNA sequence to entire organism, and to illustrate the cost of doing so.

    Reconstructing the genomes of already-extinct species aside, what is it going to take in terms of resources and finances to do this for any significant proportion of the species that already face extinction? How will this mesh with the other costs to humanity that will emerge as peak oil and global warming really start to bite?

    Steven Sullivan actually raised some of the points (22 February 2011, at 08:54) that I was hoping you might list in an answer of your own, so you have a head start. In particular, I was hoping that you would go into detail to elaborate on how methylations and other epigenetic modifications would be decided upon and arranged, and how mitochondrial genes would be sampled and incorporated with their co-evolved nuclear genotypes.

    As you claim the powers of God (that word about which you are so shy), it should be a cinch for you to provide the answers.

    So, once again, how exactly would you go about resurrecting an extinct animal – say, a species of rhinoceros, or a great ape, as these are certainly endangered, and of incredible worth to humanity…

    How would you go about turning your sequence into a viable zygotic genome? How would you include the diversity of extra-nuclear genomic components and the requisite suite of epigenetic factors? How would you raise the organisms to independence? How would you incorporate into this population the requisite MCH and other allelic polymorphisms necessary for population viability? How would you resurrect the culturally-transmitted behavioural characteristics of populations – that is, the behaviours and knowledge that are not instinctive – and that are context-specific in terms of the range through suitable habitat?

    As several other commenters have asked (Dhogaza, Jeff Harvey, Steven Sullivan), how will the habitats and ecosystems that housed these species be reconstituted?

    Detailed breakings-down of the budgets please, because after all you are God and would therefore be able to pull the figures from the air without thinking.

    Who will pay for all of this work in the future, and why? How will it be conducted in a world post Peal Oil and post Peak Coal?

    Why is it easier to play God and resurrect these species, than to protect and to maintain them now? Where is your proof-of-concept in eukaryotic terms, and why is it not considered a recovery option for animals, such as the Tasmanian devil, which are precipitously declining?

    You’ve been very free with your criticism of ecologists, but you have presented no evidence to prove any of your denigrations of them, and you’ve presented nothing to indicate that your claims to Godhood are in any way justifiable.

    I propose that your claims of a capacity to reconstitute ecosystems from sequences on a flash drive is as pie-in-the-sky as dreams of interstellar travel. I also propose that any other comments about ecology that you put forward are similarly factually dubious.

  237. Tom Fuller Says:

    Who wrote, “We have become as gods–we might as well get good at it”?

  238. Tom Fuller Says:

    Yeah, haven’t seen the press get this much criticism since Nixon and Agnew’s days. Those nattering nabobs of negativism ruined him! They should be stopped! All they need to be is stenographers of the true and just pronunciations!

    Hey, Bernard J–what’s wrong with pursuing both genetic reconstitution and habitat preservation? Are they mutually exclusive?

  239. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Bernard
    These interdisciplinary spats are going to get nowhere. Harry’s flash drive ecosystem ressurections are a fiction, but I suppose virtual species extinctions inside computer models are real?

    Harry also forgot to mention one other thing. Molecular biologists have been very successfull at attracting funding, under the promise of biotech and genomic medicine material advances, whereas ecologists have (finally) arrived at a point where they attract funding for their agendas, based on the promise of carbon trading. There is place under the sun for everyone!

    I would suggest the Robert Laughlin approach, at this juncture. Ecosystems don’t need us, nor do they need our understanding of them. System-wide perspectives are necessarily of a different species in human thinking, whereas molecular biology remains more rooted in experimental science.

  240. Bernard J. Says:

    Hey, Bernard J–what’s wrong with pursuing both genetic reconstitution and habitat preservation? Are they mutually exclusive?

    One works, and the other doesn’t and won’t in the future.

    I suppose virtual species extinctions inside computer models are real?

    I could give you my own answer, but I doubt that you’d listen. So why don’t you do the science to support your proposition/intimation?

    Take the null hypothesis – that virtual species extinctions inside computer models are not “real”, and test it. Figure out what proportion of extinction predictions are wrong beyond the bounds of legitimate confidence intervals, and determine too what proportion are acceptably accurate.

    If you can’t do the work yourself, review the literature and report back to us.

  241. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dear Bernard,
    To know whether or not imaginary extinctions are real, we need real data on how many species exist. Last I heard, gathering that data was the job of the ecologists. It is upto them to therefore demonstrate that virtual extinctions are real. I can suspend judgement about whether species extinction rates are true; you on the other hand seem convinced. So the onus is on you.

    Your doubts, moreover, have to be tackled by you. I am a very late entrant to this thread, with hardly any contributions. I asked Dr Harvey to provide substantiation for his claims about the Amazon which still go unanswered. I wonder what grounds prompted your doubts (about your being able to convince me).

  242. MapleLeaf Says:

    Fuller spouts:

    “Harry–don’t you understand? These people do not want a solution.

    They have a vested interst in the problem.”

    Now that would be an outright lie, and a stupid generalization. In reality it is the likes of Fuller et al. who have a vested interest in manufacturing doubt and “debate”.

    I’m out of here, what a waste of time. Thanks to Dr. Harvey for trying to reason with the D-Ks.

  243. Steven Sullivan Says:

    Fuller:
    “Who wrote, “We have become as gods–we might as well get good at it”?”

    Just with the powers we have now, we could lay our world to waste in godlike fashion. To recreate it seems rather more difficult.

  244. Steven Sullivan Says:

    Shub:
    “I would suggest the Robert Laughlin approach, at this juncture. Ecosystems don’t need us, nor do they need our understanding of them.”

    But we need them. Which suggest we shouldn’t disrupt them unthinkingly.

  245. Tom Fuller Says:

    Sullivan, that wasn’t my line–it was Stewart Brand from the 1968 Whole Earth Catalog.

    Which brings up another quote from another character for Bernard J, who declares that genetic reconstitution won’t ever work:

    When an elderly and distinguished scientist tells you that something is possible, he is very probably right. When he tells you that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” Arthur C. Clarke

    How old are you, Bernard J?

  246. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    Pu-lease, ecology is not largely an “observational discipline”. Research done in both the field and laboratory is often highly manipulative and mechanistic. Anyone writing such nonsense should not be taken at all seriously.

    Then you write, this silly remark: “To know whether or not imaginary extinctions are real, we need real data on how many species exist”.

    Nonsense. Of course we don’t. We need to understand the demographics of species and populations over time, and sadly our knowledge of ecological history is still weak in many areas (Terborgh, 1989). As I said before, extinction covers different taxonomic scales – and we are well aware that the genetic diversity of very many species is in decline. Moreover, area-extinction models have proven to be highly accurate in estimating local extinction rates of well-studied taxa. In fact, given that these models of exponential decay are based exclusively on habitat loss, whilst ignoring other human-mediated environmental stresses, there are examples where they underestimate extinction rates. And we already know that humans have greatly altered the physical and chemical environment across vast swathes of the biosphere. Like other armchair ecologists, you appear to think that without 100% unequivocal proof of a process (in this case a mass extinction event) that there is no problem. This strategy has been used by the anti-environmental lobby to downplay a range of human threats to nature. Now you are doing it too.

    if you want to contribute to this discussion, don’t do it by gleaning a little knowledge off the top of your head. You have a lot of reading to do, and need to start hitting the peer-reviewed journals. Its clear that your comments are shallow. I would like to know what your qualifications are in any scientific field, before I engage in any more with you. You are a time-waster and I don’t have the time for your pedantic views.

    Steven Sullivans last response is at the heart of the matter. Nature does not need us but we need nature. We need diversity. We depend on a wide range of supporting ecosystem services that emerge from natural systems over vastly different spatial and temporal scales and for which (cue Harry) there are few or no technological substitutes. If you want to discuss the link between human welfare and nature’s services (a subject I give many lectures on) then by all means do so. I know all and sundry in the contrarian camp here will accuse me of being supremely arrogant but so be it: we are debating on different levels. I can give you a junior primer about why we depend on nature so much, but by this time you should have been able to work it out for yourself.

  247. SteveF Says:

    Not extinction, but interesting evolutionary response in owls to climate change:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9401000/9401733.stm

    There has been quite a lot of discussion regarding evolution, climate change and birds. Though separating out plasticity can be somewhat tricky.

  248. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dr Harvey
    I tried to understand/explain why Harry’s comment about ecology being largely an observational discipline might have troubled you, upthread. Did I make such a claim myself?

    In any case, accepting therefore that ecology is a experimental science, and as far as experimentation is concerned, molecular biologists are certainly higher in the conceptual heirarchial scale – and *this* is my opinion. I would like to clarify, hand in hand, that I do not think this makes them ‘superior’ or anything. Indeed, most graduate students and postdocs want to get out of their dreary labs and into the woods and mountains, close to nature, where the cool ecologists are hanging around anyway.

    My scientific background is immaterial to you. So is your scientific background to me, fortunately. I only challenge your claims, not your expertise, your name, identity or any other aspect. Those challenges however, may come packaged in strong language – that happens in blogs. Just think of it as the flip side of you being able to write vast posts with numerous claims that go unchallenged. You can go to Deltoid – you wont find anyone throwing such questions there.

    In the end, I have two points of contention, which I will reiterate; ‘biodiversity’ was not primarily my reason for engaging here. Firstly, they relate to your claims about Amazonian tipping points and area estimates of Amazonain forest affected, by ‘human influence’. Secondly, they relate to the teleological outlook and the vulnerability rhetoric in ecologic sciences, which you so heartily embrace. Again, to clarify, I dont believe that it is only ecology which is infected with such a problem. My own area in science is certainly filled to the brim with such scientific thinking.

    At least one of the above is a broad objection, and I don’t certainly expect you to engage in any discussions (they cannot be resolved by discussion).

  249. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    OK. lets be civil. In this way we will get somewhere.

    Let us start with your doubts over the recent empirical studies coming out of the Amazon region. There have been two once-in-a-century droughts there in the past year. The Amazon basis is not well adapted to prolonged dry seasons, and certainly not two in such close proximity. I have been to the Amazon and well up the Rio Negro and I was confronted with highly fragmented and burned patches. As I flew over the Amazon in 2000, I could see little specks of fire through the canopy over much of the flight, and especially as we approached Manaus. There is little doubt that there has been a profound change in microclimates wherever fires have been burned, even if the burns were in largely intact forest. The other point I wish to make is that the large expanses of secondary forest contain much lower biodiversity than the ‘tall’ trees characteristic of the primary forest. I spoke with locals who had lived in the secondary forest areas who had never seen a macaw in their lives. Primates were gone. Harpy eagles and large predators had long been extirpated. I saw million dollar yachts cruising up the river passing impoverished farmsteads with burning vegetation and scrawny chickens running about. There is a huge disparity of wealth in Brazil as well as elsewhere in Latin America, and there have been immense social as well as environmental consequences.

    In Peru, John Terborgh found a similar situation. National parks bordering deforested patches where there was immense poverty are being destroyed, as there is little incentive to protect them. They are the true embodiment of the ‘living dead’, whereby there is little recruitment amongst forest vegetation which is overrun by cattle and goats, true agents of desertification if there ever were any. And deforestation drives poverty, as many studies have shown.

    With no disrespect to you, I would stand behind the views and studies by some of the leading researchers in the world, including Dan Nepstad, over people who run ostensibly anti-environmental web sites. I would respect your opinions more if you linked your site to actual scientific bodies and organization, as opposed to web sites like those of Lubos Motl and Marc Morano. You essentially default yourself completely on the basis of who you side with. As the article in Nature said last year, I do not see the climate change debate – indeed debates on the loss of biodiversity, various forms of pollution etc. as anything more than a street fight, with a well-organized and well-funded political lobby on the far right using and abusing science in proportion of a brazenly political and de-regulatory agenda. It is not and never has been about the science; many of those distorting the empirical data loathe science IMO but they have to veil their agendas in it to give the public some sense of legitimacy. Shub, you are wasting your breath claiming that the Amazon is not so badly off; experts in the field, almost without exception, are in broad agreement over this. For tropical forests in other parts of the world the situation is even more dire. But the scientific community is not at all divided over this issue; the evidence is ‘in’ and me and my colleagues are in broad agreement over the science. This leaves Morano, Milloy and others toiling in their blogs, because scientists don not listen to them at all. But then again, the anti-environmental lobby has never targeted the scientific community because they know that their science would be destroyed under the weight of accumulating empirical evidence. Instead, the anti-environmentalists have always aimed at misleading the public. Its that simple, because they know that they can lie, distort, manipulate and cheat and get away with it.

    If you know of a systems ecologist, somewhere, who disputes the fact that humans are destroying tropical forests, that we are vanquishing species and populations at hundreds or thousands of times the natural background rate, and that we are undermining the ability of natural systems to sustain mankind, then please let me know. But your list will be very short or non-existant. I go to many conferences and workshops where these issues on at the top of the agenda, and I have yet to meet a peer who disputes what I have said here. I am afraid that web-logs run by non-professionals do not count. As my partner once said to me, “everyone thinks that they are are expert in ecology”. Years of research are not necessary; watching a couple of BBC documentaries appears to give many the impression that they are experts in the field. I have yet to see any field of science with any more D-K people than ecology.

  250. Tom Fuller Says:

    The work of passionate advocates like Nepstad is having an effect:

    http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0831-imazon_amazon.html

    (Note I am not saying the problem is solved or that we can slacken our efforts. But let’s do remember that progress on these issues is possible.)

    “Amazon deforestation falls significantly in 2010, according to preliminary data
    Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
    August 31, 2010

    Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon.

    Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested. Nearly half (47 percent) of forest loss occurred in the state of Para, where agricultural expansion is fast-expanding. Mato Grosso, the Amazon’s major cattle- and soy-producing state accounted for 23 percent of deforestation during the period.”

  251. Carrick Says:

    Bart, very interesting thread. You might want to generate a plot of total known extinctions since say 1850 to now versus time.

    “Species facing extinction” is a subjective term, “extinct species” not so much.

  252. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dr Harvey,
    I would firstly persuade you to brush all the stuff about Morano, Delingpole etc aside. Those are not useful in any discussion – I link to whom I like, it is a personal thing, very quirky and based on many, many factors which have no bearing whatsoever on my scientific understanding of Amazonia and climate (or attempts thereof). I realize many people follow a consistent pattern in linking to other blogs, and their ‘blogroll’ gives an indication to their scientific views. This is not true in my case, but I know it, and not the viewers (because I put up the links).

    Secondly, I put in the effort of reading up some of the available and published material that you have put out – explaining your views – not your primary literature, let me hasten to add. I am convinced that there is a vast difference in worldview – and a very fundamental one – between my position and yours. As such, from my experience, I do not consider these differences as reconcilable. I am certainly willing to be persuaded this way or that, but rhetorical processes embedded in the tropical forest literature for example, make this very difficult.

    Thirdly, coming to Nepstad, there is a very brief, fleeting, but significant back-history there. Unfortunately, going into this back-history will only elicit more hostile remarks from you, but suffice to say here that, as a result of what happened, I do not place much confidence in Nepstad’s scientific understanding. It has been some of Nepstad’s own actions that lead me to this opinion. I would make further fine distinctions here – I do not think his own work, as a scientist, is flawed, but only that his meta-scientific opinions and the conclusions drawn are so. But such conclusions and opinions, have had a significant impact, on policy.

    Finally, Tom, Brazilian deforestation is down, in anticipation of REDD-driven cash, to be earned against standing forest 2012 onwards. It is a money-for-nothing scam, that will drive deforestation, in the long run, so I don’t know what to make of short-term trends.

  253. jakerman Says:

    Tom, since the topic is large scale extinction, what is going to save more species , money spent reconstructing dead species and their dead ecosystems, or money spent preserving the Amazon and other rich ecosystems?

    Note I’m not trying to stop gene sequencing, instead the argument is that even if resurrection were possible for a few iconic species for zoos it would not be practical to halt large scale extinctions because of the resources requited including the extinct species habitat which has been put to other use.

    There is no point bringing species back without preserving or recreating their habitat.

    Hence my question:

    “what is going to save more species , money spent reconstructing dead species and their dead ecosystems, or money spent preserving the Amazon and other rich ecosystems?”

  254. jakerman Says:

    Shub

    REDD-driven cash, to be earned against standing forest 2012 onwards. It is a money-for-nothing scam, that will drive deforestation, in the long run, so I don’t know what to make of short-term trends.

    I’m skeptical of REDD too. What factors lead to you to the surety of the statement that it “will drive deforestation, in the long run”?

    Also,

    I am convinced that there is a vast difference in worldview – and a very fundamental one – between my position and yours. As such, from my experience, I do not consider these differences as reconcilable. I am certainly willing to be persuaded this way or that, but rhetorical processes embedded in the tropical forest literature for example, make this very difficult.

    Which “rhetorical processes embedded in the tropical forest literature” conflict with your world view?

  255. Tom Fuller Says:

    jakerman, resurrecting extinct species falls right into cutting edge research that is being performed in any event (because it will lead to pots of gold for someone). Unlike some other areas, that research will not subtract from money spent on saving/restoring the environment. There’s no real loser here.

  256. sidd Says:

    This is a good blog site and I thank our host. I am dismayed by comments such as the one made by Shub Niggurath on the 23rd of February 2011 at 0037. This comment contributed nothing to the discussion, and contains a series of (unsourced) attacks on Dr. Nepstad.

    An unkind person might read that comment as follows:

    The poster wrote:

    “I would firstly persuade you to brush all the stuff about Morano, Delingpole etc aside. Those are not useful in any discussion – I link to whom I like, it is a personal thing, very quirky and based on many, many factors…”

    I endorse lying shills for the fossil fuel companies…

    “I put in the effort of reading up some of the available and published material that you have put out – explaining your views – not your primary literature…”

    I didn’t bother to read your actual research.

    “I am convinced that there is a vast difference in worldview – and a very fundamental one – between my position and yours. As such, from my experience, I do not consider these differences as reconcilable.”

    I have no arguments that you would understand.

    “…rhetorical processes embedded in the tropical forest literature for example, make this very difficult.”

    I will now do my third rate impression of Sokal.

    “Unfortunately, going into this back-history will only elicit more hostile remarks from you, but suffice to say here that, as a result of what happened, I do not place much confidence in Nepstad’s scientific understanding.”

    Having made indistinct allegations about Nepstad I expect hostility from you, but I will sneer some more at Nepstad anyway.

    “I do not think his own work, as a scientist, is flawed, but only that his meta-scientific opinions and the conclusions drawn are so.”

    I will not discuss any of the actual research, or in fact any of Nepstad’s writing.

    “Brazilian deforestation is down, in anticipation of REDD-driven cash,…”

    In conclusion I will make an claim, exhibit no evidence, and take my leave.

  257. jakerman Says:

    Tom, its cutting edge in a direction that is not practical for halting mass extinctions.

  258. Shub Niggurath Says:

    That was very cute, sidd.

    Did I do an impression of Sokal there, the quality of it notwithstanding? Thanks.

    Since your mental processes seem to interfere with your own understanding of what I said, let me provide a link to show you an example of what I read:

    http://www.ecoglobe.ch/biodiv/e/lomb3o15.htm

    And moreover, there are no ‘allegations’ about Nepstad in my post. There is only a statement of my opinion of him.

  259. Tom Fuller Says:

    Then it will fail, jakerman. But it will cost the environmental movement nothing.

    But you should be pretty careful before condemning it to inevitable failure. Might not work out that way.

  260. jakerman Says:

    But you should be pretty careful before condemning it to inevitable failure. Might not work out that way.

    I’m not condeming the possiblity of resurection of an iconic exinct species (for zoos etc), I’m condeming resurection of exinct species as a practical method of halting mass extinction, caused by habitat disruption.

    Its a discussion point that is used as a distraction from of halting the current mass extinction event.

  261. Tom Fuller Says:

    I haven’t seen discussion of it as a practical alternative. I have seen (just a little) discussion of it as a last-gasp hope when all else has failed. Can you point me to anyone who is doing otherwise?

  262. jakerman Says:

    Harry Says:

    February 22, 2011 at 02:27
    Dear Dave H,

    I personally think that genome sequencing is not only a means to solve mass extinction, it could also bring about the restoration of lost species…

  263. Bernard J. Says:

    When an elderly and distinguished scientist tells you that something is possible, he is very probably right. When he tells you that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” Arthur C. Clarke

    Hmmm.

    As much as I have a lot of time for ACC, his generalisation is off the mark. Replace “very probably” with “quite possibly” and it is a much more accurate statement, although certainly much less attention-grabbing.

    And Tom Fuller, I am still free of grey hair, and I am an enthusiastic and early adopter of technology, so there is no Luddite or dust-eating in my assessments.

    It’s a matter having an understanding the complexities of living systems, and of the trajectories of development of technology. Take into account the realities of the laws of physics, the bounds of economies, and the practicalities of human nature, and species resurrection and interstellar travel are going to be perpetually further into the future than the case of “fusion in 50 years”.

    jakerman, resurrecting extinct species falls right into cutting edge research that is being performed in any event (because it will lead to pots of gold for someone). Unlike some other areas, that research will not subtract from money spent on saving/restoring the environment. There’s no real loser here.

    Wrong.

    To the extent that a faith in the capacity for sequencing-and-resurrection forestalls or reduces efforts to protect currently extant species, such faith does “subtract from money spent on saving/restoring the environment”. I’ve spoken to politically-sensitive bureaucrats who have referenced exactly the resurrection option as an excuse for not properly acting to protect the endangered species with which I have worked.

    There is a “real loser” when future technology-fairies are posited as a solution; and it’s the biosphere, with its ecosystems and its threatened species, that loses out.

    If you disagree Tom Fuller, perhaps you could answer the questions of 15:13 22 February 2011 that I put to Harry, and which everyone on your side of the discussion is studiously avoiding.

  264. Sou Says:

    This ‘resurrection’ issue is a major distraction. It’s not much different to cloning, which doesn’t give any increase in genetic diversity let alone biological diversity more generally. It’s a curiosity and a demonstration of technology, which can be useful in testing the finer points of reproductive and other technologies but has nothing to do with the subject of this thread.

  265. Tom Fuller Says:

    BernardJ, this thread is the only place where I have ever seen anyone write of using resurrection as an alternative to salvation. I’m not trying to sound religious here, but really. Which bureacrats? Where did they work? What species were being discussed?

    Technology ‘fairies’ have a pretty good track record. And if you think your wording of Clarke’s dictum is better than the original, well, let me just say I disagree.

  266. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub writes, “I do not place much confidence in Nepstad’s scientific understanding”.

    Shub, you don’t get it. You are not an ecologist., You do not do any empirical research in the field of forest or systems ecology. In broader terms, nobody knows who the hell you are. Nepstad, by contrast, is one of the most esteemed experts in the world of tropical forest ecology, as judged by his peers. Just because some right wing pundits and bloggers don’t like him means jack s***.

    You give the impression that your views are being balanced against those of Nepstad, Lovejoy, Pimm and other scientists by our peers. But, Shub, get used to it: like Fuller, nobody in the relevant fields of science know you guys exist. You may think, like Delingpole, that you are an ‘interpreter of interpretations’, but your ‘interpretations’ fall on deaf ears.

    I don’t know if it is ego, or self-delusion, or whatever, but its quite shocking and funny at the same time that armchair pundits have convinced themselves that their views must matter in the grander scheme of things, even when they never read the primary literature and when they do, they do not understand it.

    With respect to Harry’s views, I also find it quite funny that Fuller is trying to defend the idea of ‘gene banks’ to save species without taking into consideration (1) the limited genetic information that can be stored in a gene bank, which is a problem for species such as large vertebrates that generally require large populations to maintain genetic integrity and to prevent the over expression of deleterious mutations, (2) that species in gene banks are not contributing to the functioning of ecosystems, meaning that critical functions and services they generate in combination with other species are lost from the system, and (3) the storing of genetic material does not mean that these species will have viable habitat in which they can be reintroduced.

    The whole notion stinks of desperation. It also suggests that some people think that we can cover the planet in concrete and that somehow our species will survive and persist. Well I have news for Harry and Tom: the scientific community is already well aware that we are currently pushing complex adaptive systems towards a point beyond which they will be unable to sustain themselves – and us. Natural systems generate conditions which permit humans to exist and to persist. They do not do that solely for the benefit of Homo sapiens – rather, Homo sapiens exists because natural systems generate conditions that permit it to be so (Levin, 1999). I have said this many times on Deltoid but apparently for many anthropocentric-minded individuals it has yet to sink in.

  267. Dave H Says:

    @Tom Fuller

    > BernardJ, this thread is the only place where I have ever seen anyone write of using resurrection as an alternative to salvation.

    Probably because resurrection isn’t a realistic alternative solution to salvation, for all of the reasons outlined above. That said, recovery of otherwise extinct plant species has often been referred to as a possible future function of initiatives like this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault

  268. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dear Dr Harvey,
    Your quote of what I said is inaccurate, and misrepresents what I said. Therefore your rant about ‘armchair ecologists’ doesn’t hold much water. “Right-wing”? Where did you gather my political affiliation from? In fact, I would like to ask you: What is “right-wing”? The vehemence of your language seems to suggest that you must be “left-wing” then? Is that how it works?

    Nor does science work by a bunch of peers holding each other in great esteem; that stuff happens in the real world, no doubt, but science cannot be sustained for long only by doing so.

    I am yet to lay out a single sentence of my argument. Which part exactly gave you the impression that I ‘balanced my views’, ‘did not read the primary literature’, ‘do not understand it’ etc etc?

    It is sort of sad that ecologists are still in “let us aggrandize our discipline” and flail against imaginary opponents.

    Jakerman:
    You must be familiar with RAN’s stand about REDD, for example. I feel they are the most accessible source (they are not the only ones), which says that REDD money will eventually get used for deforestation because definitions of what constitutes ‘primary’ forest are loose. In fact, there is no UN or any other broadly-agreed upon definition of what a tree is (assuming they wont come up with it in Durban).

    Finally, isn’t it enough that millions (?billions) of dollars of NGO, environmental group money has been poured into conservation over the last two decades, for conservation, and yet produced poor results?

  269. Deech56 Says:

    As a biology enthusiast turned medical researcher, I would point to Jeff Harvey’s post on February 23, 2011 at 10:40 as being definitive. The gene jockeys (a term I use with great affection) really need to address these points before going forward. As any devotee of Lewis Thomas can tell you, living systems are incredibly complex – to believe that a few species can reconstruct a system is, IMHO, naive.

  270. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    By citing right wing web sites and people like ‘The reference frame’ and ‘James Delingpole, you are wearing your agenda-driven opinions on your sleeve. My take is that you, like Delingpole, are an ‘interpreter of interpretations’. IMO these people are driven by a right wing deregulatory agenda. They see any form of government regulations as a threat to liberty. Why else would they write as they do? Heck, on Lubos Motl’s facebook are links to right wing quacks like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. And you people expect to be taken seriously? C’mon Shub, you are as transparent as thin clear glass.

    With no disrespect, I would not take the advice of a garage mechanic over someone working for years in the aerospace industry when developing technology for the next space shuttle mission. Or an accountant over an experienced brain surgeon in determining how a patient’s brain tumor should be operated on. So tell me: what expertise do you have in any relevant field of ecology – from systems, to communities, to mechanisms and evolutiionary ecology? Like it or not, policymakers want sound scientific advice from trained experts, nor from blogging wannabes. If you have such profound criticisms of Nepstad’s work, why can I not see it in peer-reviewed journals? Where’s the beef?

    The scientific issues that are being discussed on this thread are covered in detail at conferences and workshops (which I assume you’ve never attended – am I correct?) or in peer-reviewed scientific journals (to which you have never contributed – am I correct?). So the gist is this: there is nothing elitist whatsoever in saying that trained scientists know a lot more than you do in their various fields. This may sting, but Nepstad’s views carry a lot more weight than yours in the field of tropical ecology. Just as Tom Lovejoy’s, Stuart Pimm’s, Edward O. Wilson’s, Paul Ehrlich’s and many others do in the field of conservation ecology and species extinctions. Get used to it.

  271. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Dr Harvey,

    “you people”

    If you are angry with/about Delingpole or Lubos Motl for some reason, don’t try to take it out on me! You should really keep at these vituperative rants. They seem to be working very well in achieving their objective (?) – trying to convince observers and professionals from other disciplines about why your claims are correct. I care not a whit for your smear-by-association attempts you have carried in every one of your posts above addressing me.

    In any event, I am quite used to brushing aside useless criticism, however strongly worded they may be, as long as they don’t contain any substantive material.

    Trained scientists, geniuses, brain surgeons, car mechanics – they all can be wrong. It is usually difficult for prominent scientists to admit to wrongs and errors. Errors can be picked up idiots, morons and right-wingers. Authority does not trump science.

    You can answer to the very specific question I have asked. They pertain to some of the quantitative estimates for ‘human-caused’ ‘forest damage’ in the Amazon, you make upthread. These claims have been made without citation. Who knows? Your claims may even be correct in a general sense. But even then, they would need to be framed or worded differently than you have done above. The rest is just rhetoric.

  272. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    I am not taking anything out on you. But in your case its gult by association. Why do you think they have anything useful to say? Where are your links to scientific web sites?

    I agree with you that the odd garbage man may, in exceedingly rare instances, come up with some pearl of wisdom. But if you are correct, why go through years of university training and do researcdh for many more years if an utrer layman knows more?

    With respect to forest loss, there is something known as remote sensing. It can tell how much primary and secondary forest has been lost. It is, however, very imprecise at detecting fire damage or damage from high grade logging practices. For their part, those trying to downplay damage to tropical – and temperate for that matter – forests, ignore the unqauntifiable effects of those I have described. In Malaysia, for example, government brochures previously argued that much of the country was forested – more than 70% I once recall (but don’t hold me to it) – without informing the reader that much of the forest cover was oil palm plantations. I drove from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in 1996 and I saw mile after mile of oil palms. These ‘forests” are biological deserts, much like banana plantations. But for those who want to obfuscate, then lumping oil palsm under ‘forest cover’ is a very misleading way of telling the true story.

    Like contrarians I know, your trick is to give the impression that without complete rock-solid evidence of a process – in this case forest destruction in the Amazon – then the problem does not exist. I have seen the same trick used to downplay a range of environmental problems, including acid rain, extinction rates etc. Have you ever been to Brazil, Shub? Have you observed the state of many of their forests? If there was more funcing into research on this and other areas, we’d know exactly what the state of the forests in the Neoptropics are. But we haven’t, so we have to go on small scale studies for the most part.

    For example, some of the recent literature on wet tropical forests and fire:

    Smith et al. (2011) Fire favours expansion of bamboo-dominated forests in the south-west Amazon. J. Tropical Ecol, 27: 69-64.

    Carvalho etn al. (2010) Understorey fire propagation and tree mortality on adjacent areas to an Amazonian deforestation fire. Int. J. Wildl. Fire 19:795-799. In the abstract we read this: Fire characteristics in tropical ecosystems are poorly documented quantitatively in the literature

    Balch et al. (2010) Size, species, and fire behavior predict tree and liana mortality from experimental burns in the Brazilian Amazon. For. Ecol. Man. 261: 268-277. From the abstract: Anthropogenic understory fires have affected large areas of tropical forest in recent decades, particularly during severe droughts.

    Briant et al. (2010) Habitat fragmentation and the desiccation of forest canopies: A case study from eastern Amazonia. Biol. Cons. 143: 2763-2769. From the abstract: We conclude that protracted dry seasons will have far more serious effects on fragmented than intact rainforests, with the former becoming highly vulnerable to destructive fires. With similar to 30,000 km of new forest edge being created annually in Brazilian Amazonia, these finding have serious implications for forest conservation.

    Slik et al. (2010) Fire as a selective force in a Bornean tropical everwet forest. Oecologia 164: 861-869. From the abstract: This suggests that most tree mortality was random and everwet tropical tree species are poorly fire adapted. As fire frequencies are increasing in the everwet tropics, this might eventually result in permanently altered species compositions and even species extinction.

    Le Page et al., (2010) Modeling fire-driven deforestation potential in Amazonia under current and projected climate conditions. J. Geoph. Res. 115. From the abstract: The entire region is very sensitive to a possible drying with climate change; a reduction in dry-season precipitation of 200 mm/year would reduce the climate constraint on deforestation fires from 58% to only 24% of the forest. Our results suggest that dry-season climate conditions will continue to shape land use decisions in Amazonia through mid-century, and should therefore be included in deforestation projections for the region.

    There’s hundreds more. Do your own homework and read the empirical literature. Even last years welcome decrease in Amazonian deforestation – 16% – meant that an area almost as large as Belgium was destroyed. And again this figure excludes collateral damage from fires and high grade logging.

  273. Tom Fuller Says:

    Well, Harvey, I hope your finger just slipped on your calculator. The area of Belgium is 11,787 square km. The amount of deforestation in Amazonian rain forest was less than 10% of that, 1,488 sq. km.

  274. Tom Fuller Says:

    FWIW, that’s about the size of the Indian city New Delhi.

  275. Tom Fuller Says:

    The Amazon rain forest is estimated at 5.5 million sq. km. Let’s keep a sense of perspective, here.

  276. Marco Says:

    Tom, please cite your source.

    Mine is here:

    http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2010/12/amazon_deforestation_surprisin_1.html

    Note that the Brazilian Amazon is about 60% of the total Amazon. The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon already exceeds your number by a factor 5. Seems to me someone needs a new calculator…

  277. Tom Fuller Says:

    Umm, Marco, my citation for deforestation is above. If you paid attention to what was going on instead of helicoptering in with indignant (and phony) authority, you might discover we are talking about last year’s deforestation, not the total. As for my citation for the size of Belgium? Use da google, dude, takes two seconds.

    Seems to me someone needs a new attitude.

  278. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Read
    Think
    Count to ten
    Think again
    Write

    In that order, please.
    No more verbal ping-pong.

  279. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Tom,

    The figures Marco cited are from the Brazilian government. FWIW last year’s toll was about 7,000 km2, 2009 about 7,500 km2 and 2008 12,500 km2 (from eyeballing the provided chart, which once again is from the Brazilian Government).

    I have no idea where you got your idea of what the current deforestation rate in Brazil is, but it is off by a factor of 4 or 5. I have no idea what your idea of an authoritative source is, but I would consider the Brazilian government an authority on what is happening in Brazil.

  280. Tom Fuller Says:

    8… 9… 10…

    As previously noted, “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon.

    Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested.”

    Nobody argued when I posted it before. Who do you trust more? It’s quite probable that neither are accurate, so I guess it’s just whatever number fits your political argument.

  281. Marco Says:

    Tom, I think you linked my comment to the wrong comment from you. My fault, so I’ll just be more clear:

    According to the source I provided (and a direct link to the officialm source is available in that piece, just in Portuguese) last year’s (August 2009 – July 2010) Amazonian deforestation in Brazil alone amounted to 6500 sq km. That’s 5 times the value you cite for last year’s deforestation for the whole Amazonian rainforest. So, I’m curious where you got that number. You did not provide a source for that number.

    I also wonder where you get the idea that I was trying to flaunt *my* authority. I referred to a source, and thus, at worst, flaunted the authority of *that* source. If you consider Nature a “phony” authority, care to tell us what *would* be an acceptable authority for you?

  282. Tom Fuller Says:

    9… 10… 11

    Marco, my source is linked to above, Feb 22 at 23:18.

  283. Marco Says:

    I can see now that Tom used the preliminary figures, through a source that notably also only mentions the low numbers from the automatic detection method used by Imazon (INPE always gives larger numbers, because some areas are not recognised as “deforested” by the automatic procedure).

    The number I cite comes from INPE after the complete analysis (the preliminary analysis only takes into account areas larger than 25 ha. And with most of the deforested areas being smaller than 50 ha, that can mean major underreporting…

  284. Harry Says:

    Jeff,

    I did send an e-mail to you, only made a mistake in the adress (or your new location is still not up and running) . But I will retry.

  285. SteveF Says:

    From this weeks Nature:

    “Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe”

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v470/n7335/full/nature09705.html

  286. Harry Says:

    @Bernard J,

    As I see things, the creation of an artificial life form, however primitive, would be a turning point for biology. Craig Venter has been chasing mirages during his career, but so far has succeeded in every effort he put himself and his organisation to it. Not that I endorse his zealousness, but it serves as a guidance to what can be achieved.

    And once a new lifeform is there, it will find its ecological habitat. We humans can breed ice-bears in zoo’s don’t we, without the proper “habitat” ? And please, stop calling a landscape in most of the western world “nature”: it is a well managed park, an artificial thing. Water level is regulated, population is regulated, access is regulated. Only the dying of animals is not 100% regulated: they sometimes kille each other.

    And finally: why should we try to keep the world as it is/was/has been?(*)

    We are not the preservators of this world, we are part of the exhibition.

    This is a serious concern in the world of cultural antropology: what is the reference period for historic reconstructions? The layer 2000 years ago, the building 1500 years old above it? What should we restore to its previous glory? The consensus (sic) is now: leave it alone. Leave it buried. build on top but do dot destroy what is beneath and hidden.

  287. Harry Says:

    Ecological services seem to be the last bid in the ever changing world of ecology:

    Which is, more or less a reframing of the famous question:

    What was first, the chicken or the egg?

    Please, I expect more from you.

  288. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Harvey,
    I read almost all the papers you have suggested above. Thanks for the references.

    The paper with the type of quantitative inferences I am trying to question is the AGU one, Le Page et al 2010.

    In key aspects, it is similar to Nepstad et al’s RisQue work. The authors note this fact.

    The approach is similar: a certain diffusely present environmental metric is selected (in this case precipitation), and by a series of assumptions, linked to the risk for a local factor developing (in this case, fire). Models are then used, to obtain projections of the environmental metric (precipitation) into the future. Proportionally, the local event is projected to increase (usually), hand in hand, with the global environmental metric. Impressive area estimate figures are arrived at, for the purported ‘risk’, involving the entire Amazon.

    I won’t say anything more, except that I am ‘not impressed’ and that some of its conclusions are ‘far-fetched’ and ‘over-reaching’, for the data it represents, and that the language and its tone discordant with the multi-layered conjectured nature of the data.

    For sidd, who was whining something about Sokal, a while back, you can read the paper. It has some of the problems that I described.

  289. Neven Says:

    Tom wrote:

    “It’s quite probable that neither are accurate, so I guess it’s just whatever number fits your political argument.”

    Indeed, and the fact that you like to cite preliminary numbers instead of numbers from the complete analysis is very telling in this respect. Showing your true colours again there, Tom. Is it because it’s a La Niña year that you are getting sloppy?

  290. Sou Says:

    So Harry is arguing for the continued destruction of plant and animal species and all our interconnected life support systems on the basis that ‘we can breed ice-bears in zoos’.

    Answer: if we end up being successful in destroying all habitats, there won’t be anyone left who can ‘breed ice-bears in zoos’ – nor any zoos.

    IMO Harry’s just stirring the pot. POE?

  291. adelady Says:

    Shub ” Finally, isn’t it enough that millions (?billions) of dollars of NGO, environmental group money has been poured into conservation over the last two decades, for conservation, and yet produced poor results? ”

    But that is not the =net= figure for expenditures relating to conservation. Do we have a total figure for the monies expended by logging, power generation, dam-building, agricultural, governmental and local bodies in negatively affecting conservation values in various regions?

    I’m more familiar with, but not expert in, issues surrounding logging companies’ activities in the Malaysia, Papua, Indonesia and Pacific Islands regions. I strongly doubt that total funds spent by anyone on conservation in these areas could match, let alone exceed, the “investments” in destruction of these habitats.

    If anyone knows of locations where habitat conservation expenditures have exceeded destruction expenditures I would be really, really happy to hear about them.

  292. Tom Fuller Says:

    Neven, get your pasty tail back over to Collide a Scape. I’m not finished with you there.

  293. Sou Says:

    While Shub seems to be arguing that he doesn’t like what people who are measuring, monitoring, researching and observing the world report. So she or he’ll ignore what they say and allege that the experts don’t know what they are talking about and those who don’t know a thing about the subject or the various situations know better.

  294. Tom Fuller Says:

    If I recall from about a year ago, when I read Forests on Fire (Nepstad et al), they seemed to think that they could resolve climate models to a regional level sufficient to project precipitation totals.

    Again, my memory’s not 100% on that–but I think they were overambitious about the fitness of models if that actually was what they used to generate their predictions.

  295. Sou Says:

    “The world’s coral reefs could be wiped out by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to stop threats posed to the “rainforests of the sea” by everything from overfishing to global warming, a report has warned.”

    Article here:
    http://www.abc.net.au/ news/ stories/ 2011/ 02/ 24/ 3147422.htm?section=justin

    World Resources Institute report, ‘Reefs at Risk Revisited’, on which the article is based is here:
    http://www.wri.org/ publication/ reefs-at-risk-revisited

  296. Sou Says:

    Sorry about the links above, I’ll try again:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/24/3147422.htm?section=justin

    http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited

  297. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller says:

    Well, Harvey, I hope your finger just slipped on your calculator. The area of Belgium is 11,787 square km. The amount of deforestation in Amazonian rain forest was less than 10% of that, 1,488 sq. km.

    Tom Fuller also says:

    f you paid attention to what was going on instead of helicoptering in with indignant (and phony) authority, you might discover we are talking about last year’s deforestation, not the total.

    So, interestingly, a non-ecologist, non-scientist tabloid reporter is authoratative on habitat loss, where professionals are not. Fascinating…

    Consider these data:

    Between May 2000 and August 2006, Brazil [which constitutes 60% of the original Amazon] lost nearly 132,000 square kilometers of forest — an area larger than Greece — and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed.

    Fuller claims authority with his 2010 figure, but he is wrong – yet again. In 2010 6,451 square kilometers of Brazilian rainforest were razed, not Fuller’s 1,488 square kilometres. Lest anyone think that Fuller’s number is supposed to be in square miles, it not. The 2010 figure in square miles is 2,491. My source is the same as Marco’s – the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE).

    So, let’s go back to the Big Picture. More than 600,000 square kilometres of Brazil’s [60% of total] Amazonian rainforest have been destroyed since 1970. Fuller tosses around a figure for one year, which is less than a quarter of just the Brazilian loss for that year, 2010.

    And note, the recent reduction in the rate of loss (it’s still occurring at staggering rates) is due to a conserted international effort to discourage the loss of the Amazon. There are several wildcards that will, in the future, negatively affect this current trend, including the global warming impacts that have been mentioned previously, and the effects of post-Peak Oil, of the soil depletion that occurs on much post slash-and-burn Amazonian laterite, and of the creeping habitat destruction that will occur at the huge cumulative length of habitat edge that ocurrs in a fragmented landscape.

    I’m not sure what Fuller is trying to demonstrate, but whatever it is, it does not constitute any argument substantiated by non-“phony authority”.

  298. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard J, thanks for your polite tone and gentle conversation. In keepign with our host’s admonishments to be polite, I will endeavour to do the same.

    Those with a discerning eye will have already noticed that we are using the same source for our differing estimates–INPE–but I assume you were too busy summoning up the wrath of God to notice.

    People who actually read what I wrote will notice several other things that don’t match your description. First, I never claimed to be an authority, nor did I claim authority for what I wrote. I cited what I found. It’s the same source as your data. Make of that what you will.

    You are the first in this thread to note rainforest loss since 1970, which bitterly disappoints me as I was hoping you would tell us how much had been lost since 1822, which is just as relevant to what we were discussing but is more euphonious.

    I’m extremely pleased that you cautioned people against assuming I was referring to square miles. We must be diligent against such false assumption, and the fact that I gave the figure in sq. km. might have easily misled so many.

    You have indeed demonstrated to us all the quality of both your intelligence and your character. I appreciate your honesty.

  299. Marco Says:

    Tom, INPE and Imazon are not the same. You used the Imazon (preliminary) number, I and Bernard J pointed to INPE results. As I also noted, Imazon has a lower estimate at best, its automated detection procedure easily misses large numbers of ‘small’ deforestation patches. As far as I understood, 25 ha is the minimum area that must be deforested to be detected automatically. And even then the automatic detection may miss some of such areas.

  300. Marco Says:

    P.S. Tom, since you’re calling Neven over to C-A-S. may I note there still is a question to you in the Open Thread?

  301. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub writes, “I won’t say anything more, except that I am ‘not impressed’ and that some of its conclusions are ‘far-fetched’ and ‘over-reaching’, for the data it represents, and that the language and its tone discordant with the multi-layered conjectured nature of the data”.

    So why haven’t you written rebuttals to these and other articles in the relevant journals if you are such an ‘expert’? Or is this the typical contrarian strategy – snipe away at the sidelines, proclaiming in your infinite wisdom that studies are crap if you say so?

    The answer should be obvious. First, you do not posses an in-depth knowledge of the field. Second, you know the garbage that you write would be bounced after peer-review. Shub, you are very much like a creationist pushing intelligent design. Don’t provide any empirical evidence of your own; instead, just ridicule other’s work when their conclusions are at odds with yours. On by all means do not attempt to get your own ideas peer-reviewed.

    You do realize the hole that you are digging for yourself here is getting deeper and deeper…

  302. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Harry writes, “Ecological services seem to be the last bid in the ever changing world of ecology: Which is, more or less a reframing of the famous question:
    What was first, the chicken or the egg? Please, I expect more from you”

    To be honest, I do not know what the hell Harry is talking about, but I will try. Here is my take on interpreting Harry’s message.

    “I do not understand basic ecology, and nor do I care to understand it, or of the importance of nature in sustaining humanity. I play around with genomes, and anything beyond the size of a cell is unimportant in my view. Furthermore, I have never read the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, nor do I understand what ecologists mean in arguing that natural systems sustain humans in many different ways. So I dispense with their arguments, and believe that humans possess infinite wisdom that has elevated us above any limitations imposed by nature”.

    Is this correct Harry? Certainly I do not mind discussing this with in in Wageningen, but your views are, IMHO, complete and utter gibberish.

  303. Jeff Harvey Says:

    The Harry writes this:

    “And once a new lifeform is there, it will find its ecological habitat. We humans can breed ice-bears in zoo’s don’t we, without the proper “habitat” ? And please, stop calling a landscape in most of the western world “nature”: it is a well managed park, an artificial thing. Water level is regulated, population is regulated, access is regulated. Only the dying of animals is not 100% regulated: they sometimes kille each other”.

    I have never read such utter nonsense in my entire life. The utter failure of biosphere II 10 years ago shows that humans do not posses anything near the proper technology to replicate the workings of a functional, sustainable biosphere. As Simon Levin has said, humans exist because conditions emerging over highly variable spatio-temporal scales permit it. The ecological services that Io alluded to earlier sustain and nurture human civilization. They are the by-product of trillions of interactions involving billions of individuals of millions of species and populations that somehow, at local and larger scales, unwittingly regulate flows of nutrients, water, and materials through biomes across the biosphere. As we continue to simplify nature, we push systems towards a threshold beyond which these vital services will be impeded, or, more worryingly, lost.

    There is nothing at all mystical or magical in any of this: it is hard, true scientific fact. In lectures I give to students at the university I give a number of examples of freely-provided ecological services and, where applicable, their much more costly substitutes. Some of the most famous examples where services have been valued include the CatskillMountain watershed, pollination of oil palms, control of agricultural pests in the Caribbean, elimination of invasive plants in Australia and sustainable use of forest products in Peru. But nature is littered with free subsidies.

    A major challenge in recent years has been to find a way of internalizing the cost of environmental damage as it affects important ecological services. More and more economists – Geoffey Heal, John Gowdy, Stephan Viedermann, Clive Hamilton, Herman Daly and others – have come to realize that current economic practices, whereby damage to the environment is externalized, is fraught with hidden dangers. For one, we do not know how important an ecological services is until it is lost from the system, by which time it may be too late to restore it. But the whole field of ecological economics is now embracing the importance of ecosystem services for society.

    IMHO Harry is too ensconced in his little molecular world to appreciate this. Fair enough, but don’t venture into areas beyond your competence.

  304. Sou Says:

    @ Jeff Harvey and Harry. Could either of you comment on the following apropos of Harry’s ice bears in zoos?

    I can make ice cubes in my refrigerator, therefore we don’t need to worry about the ice melting in the arctic, Greenland or the Antarctic Peninsula.

    (I think Harry is having us on :) )

  305. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Why haven’t I written rebuttals in the literature?

    Well…

    “study is crap…”

    I did not say that study (Le Page et al) was ‘crap’. You said that. If were to choose to use that word, I can provide detailed justification for it. I provided a basic outline, to begin with. It is present in my previous post.

    You haven’t addressed that yet.

    Neither did I claim that I was an ‘expert’, nor did I ‘ridicule’ any of the studies. You used these words.

    It is evident, from where percent figures for this or that factor, in the Amazon, originate. These are clearly, not from empirical studies to begin with. If present, the empirical evidence base is flimsy, compared to the conclusions reached. However, you demand criticism of these approaches to fetch you empirical evidence to dispute or disprove them? I don’t think it works that way.

    I am no ‘contrarian’. You have no right to question my environmentalist credentials. They are none of your business either. This is quite funny -you point to Harry, the failure of Biosphere II, when he has been pointing out, from much earlier, that many conservation ecology approaches take the museum view’ of nature anyway. Heh. I hope it becomes clear that you are not in opposition with him.

  306. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    I don’t know what your political views are with respect to the environment, and frankly I don’t care. You aren’t contributing to the scientific data except to snipe away from the sidelines. If that makes you feel good, so be it. But science and policy are not maufactured on blogs, or at least they should not be. Scientists develop reputations that are usually based on many years of conducting research in certain fields. This is how they are seen to be known as ‘experts’. I have worked in the field of entomology since I began my PhD in 1991, and by now I think I have contributed a fair amount to the empirical literature in areas relating to life-history evolution in host-parasitoid interactions and more recently multi-trophic interactions. However, as I said before, I leave it up to my peers to decide where I fit into the scheme of things in terms of my expertise. In your case, whether you like it or not, you are invisible to the scientific community. I suggested that if you had beenfs with certain studies or the work of cedrtain researchers, then you ought to write articles and submit them to journals as rebuttals. This often happens in science. I recall a few years ago a vigorous debate between two ‘camps’ as to whether parasitoid wasps actively competed for hosts in nature, and under what contexts. More recently, there has been a healthy but vigorous debate over the importance of species and genetic diversity in the functioning of ecosystems (e.g the ‘redundancy’ hypothesis versus the ‘rivet-popper’ hypothesis). These debates were carried out in conferences, workshops and most importantly in the scientific literature. Certainly blogs have their use, but if one wants to be noticed in these debates they write scientific perspective papers or rebuttals.

    What I tend to notice amongst the contrarians on blogs is that they huff and puff and rant and rave but when challenged to throw their ideas into the scientific arena they suddenly back down and run away. Please tell me why you won’t submit your ideas to a peer-reviwed journal? There are lots in the field of Ecology, Shub. Given the amount of verbiage you contribute to your weblog and to various other blogs, it surprises me that you shy away from going from the frying pan into the fire. Or then again, it does not surprise me. And you know why. I do not need to spell it out.

    Lastly, I think that one’s reputation is to a large extent determined by the friends one keeps. Your web site is contrarian, at least it cetainly looks that way. You haven’t dsiad anything to dismiss this notion. The fact that your links are with far right pundits supports this view. If I had a web site in which I linked to all kinds of groups with certain political ideologies, one could guess quite accurately that I probably sympathize with thier views. I think most of us know exactly what side of the fence James Delingpole sits. And thus, I think you sit on that side, too.

  307. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller says:

    I’m extremely pleased that you cautioned people against assuming I was referring to square miles. We must be diligent against such false assumption, and the fact that I gave the figure in sq. km. might have easily misled so many.

    How can I say this as politely and as gently as possible?

    The fact that you “gave the figure in sq. km” does not mean that you were using the correct number. My point was to those who might have decided for themselves that you used the wrong number for the units you gave, and that your number (not the units) might have reflected the imperial value for the 2010 forest loss – which it did not.

    My point was to demonstrate that no matter how it was spun, you figure was wrong.

    It is interesting though that you do your level best to turn this (as with every other of the many occasions when you are wrong) into someone else’s problem, rather than your own.

    First, I never claimed to be an authority, nor did I claim authority for what I wrote. I cited what I found.

    So what you are essentially saying is that you cite random material that you dredge up, without doing any basic checking for the correctness of its content or for the reliability of its source?

    Why does this not surprise me?

    Anyway, there you have it everyone. It seems to me that Tom Fuller frankly admits himself that he uses unreliable material with which to make his cases.

    Now, what’s the word for that…?

  308. Neven Says:

    Tom is ‘uitgeluld’, as we say in Dutch. :-)

  309. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Jeff,

    I would be happy if Shub would make a cogent argument supporting his view here, much less the literature.

  310. Tom Fuller Says:

    Ah, gentle readers and co-commenters. Apparently a temporary blockage in your vision, Bernard, causes you to see this,

    “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon.

    Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested.”

    …and completely miss the words in them, specifically: Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

    The same source Marco used, the same source you used.

    You can say it’s wrong. You can say I’m wrong. But when I use the same source you do you really should think a minute before saying it’s random material I dredge up without thought for its correctness.

    Because the fact that we ended up with the same source might indicate then that that’s what you do. And only uitgelud would do such a thing, Neven points out.

    Neven, it’s so good of you to show up here and provide such a contrast to Bart–it’d be a shame if we thought all Dutch were intelligent, polite, conscious…

  311. Neven Says:

    Tom, I have left the Netherlands 3 years ago, so at least you can continue thinking that all Dutch living in the Netherlands are intelligent, polite and conscious. :-)

    You yourself are great advertising for American old people who crave attention and are willing to sacrifice the future of younger generations for it. :-p

  312. Bernard J. Says:

    Harry says:

    And once a new lifeform is there, it will find its ecological habitat. We humans can breed ice-bears in zoo’s [sic] don’t [sic] we, without the proper “habitat” ? And please, stop calling a landscape in most of the western world “nature”: it is a well managed park, an artificial thing. Water level is regulated, population is regulated, access is regulated. Only the dying of animals is not 100% regulated: they sometimes kille [sic] each other.

    And finally: why should we try to keep the world as it is/was/has been?(*)

    We are not the preservators [sic] of this world, we are part of the exhibition.

    This is a serious concern in the world of cultural antropology: what is the reference period for historic reconstructions? The layer 2000 years ago, the building 1500 years old above it? What should we restore to its previous glory? The consensus (sic) [sic] is now: leave it alone. Leave it buried. build on top but do dot [sic] destroy what is beneath and hidden.

    There are several egregious fallacious statements in these few paragraphs.

    First, it is wrong to say that the natural “landscape in most of the western world… is a well managed park, an artificial thing”.

    Natural environments, when left to their own devices, manage themselves quite well without any help from humans. Where humans “manage” parks, reserves, wilderness, and other forms of natural environment, what we are doing is managing our own impacts upon them. If the environments resemble parks, that is because we have altered them so much, and usually to the point where they cannot sustain their current conditions without continual input from humans, whether it be to mow a lawn under the trees, or to prevent an introduced species from wreaking havoc on thousands of square kilometres of ecosystem.

    If we left them to their own devices they’d probably fix themselves up well enough, with the most notable exceptions being where we have introduced weed species, reduced species’ population numbers and/or diversity below long-term viability, and/or polluted the soil and/or water with persistent contaminants.

    I once attended a seminar by David Suzuki, and I remember his vehement comments on this subject. He was extremely critical of the mindset that nature in and of itself required human management, and he pointed out that it is a human conceit to think that it does.

    I agree with him. Nature does not require management; human actions do.

    Just because much of European forest and grassland is heavily modified does not mean that it is not able to function as ecosystem for many species, or that it does not have any value as habitat for natural, even in its modified state. This ‘thinking’ is simply an excuse for a laissez-faire approach to further interference, not much different to the claims that have been used in court that because a woman was not a virgin when she was raped, that the crime is not as serious.

    And unfortunately, in both instances that fallacious thinking has won out…

    Further, Harry, I don’t know in which part of the Western world it is that you live, but there are many folk in Australia and Canada who would dispute your claim that most of their countries are “well managed parks, artificial things”.

    Your reference to animals killing each other is a spurious and juvenile one, no different to the claims of denialists that human breathing contribute to the increase of atmospheric CO2 concentration.

    What animals do in the natural environment is what they’ve done for hundreds of millions of years, and it is what they are adapted to do. Your confabulation of predation with human regulation of water and of other aspects of natural ecosystem function is fallacious – again.

    And your confabulation of ecologists’ efforts to preserve ecosystem integrity with a “museum” mentality is also way off the mark. The comparison with historic human culture fails too: in both cases the similies are poor, because a functioning biosphere is fundamentally a different thing to human cultural history. The planetary integrity and functioning of the biosphere operates on profoundly different levels of time, of space, of complexity, of reach, and of fundamental importance to life, compared with what humans might have carved from stone 2000, 1000, or 500 years ago.

    Biospheric integrity and “cultural anthropology” represent entirely different degrees of important both to our own species, and to the rest of the species on the planet. Environmental conservation is not about preserving artifacts, it’s about maintaining the integrity of our life-support system.

    That’s the practical level – at an ethical/philosophical level it is about the fact that we, by our own definitions of human rights and humane action, do not have the right to take from people (or from non-human life) in other countries, or in future times, the resources that we ourselves were bequeathed by our own ancestors.

    It would seem though that you believe otherwise. Together with your God delusion it is apparent that you are operating under a particular misapprehension; one where it is OK to modify, damage, and destroy life, and to modify, damage and destroy ecosytems, and to hell with the future implications.

    Either you are not nearly as scientifically educated as you pretend, or you are the Poe that others have already accused you of being.

    Either way, I can’t see that there’s any point in further conversation with you.

  313. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller says:

    Ah, gentle readers and co-commenters. Apparently a temporary blockage in your vision, Bernard, causes you to see this,

    “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon.

    Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested.”

    The National Institute for Space Research says, in the news story accessible from the organisation’s front page:

    The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has concluded the survey on deforestation in the Legal Amazon for 2009/2010 performed by the Monitoring of the Brazilian Forest by Satellite – PRODES. The estimate rate from 93 satellite images projected is 6,451 km2. The margin of error is about 10%.

    Fuller, why do you think that there are differences?

    A clue – Marco has given you one clue already…

  314. Bernard J. Says:

    Tom Fuller.

    In your attempts at defense of your statements on this thread there has been signficant argument creep.

    Going back to the topic of this thread – the impact of climate change on biodiversity – can you respond to a rephrasing of the problem…

    If the planet were to warm at the “best estimate” rate determinedby the IPCC, to wit 3 degrees or so celcius per doubling of CO2, would you still insist that there would be no significant adverse impact upon biodiversity or on human life-support systems?

    Given that there is a skew in the distribution of warming sensitivity estimates, with quite a long tail above the value of 3 degrees celcius, if the planet were to warm above the “best estimate” rate determinedby the IPCC, say, 4 degrees or so celcius per doubling of CO2, would you still insist that there would be no significant adverse impact upon biodiversity or on human life-support systems?

    I won’t bother going the other way, to 2 degrees celcius, because the general consensus of mainstream scientists anyway is that this is a relatively safe upper limit. This is not to say that there won’t be consequences, but relative to higher climate sensitivities these biological sensitivities are themselves not as great.

    I’m curious to discover what your own ‘considered’ biological sensitivity, to the consensus figure for warming sensitivity, is.

  315. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bernard J, there is creep, there is argument, no question.

    The answer to your question, as I have said repeatedly, is yes, I believe there would be overall net damage to biodiversity if temperatures rose three degrees.

    As I have said repeatedly, global warming can act as the straw that broke the camel’s back for vulnerable species.

    I believe that warmer, wetter weather will advantage some species, but overall the effect will be quite negative.

    I do not believe that 3C is the IPCC’s best estimate. The project between 1.5 and 4.5 without favoring any value within the range. I personally believe it will be close to 2C. I think that is enough to produce the net effects I have described.

    I think that with our current knowledge it is impossible to separate the effects of global warming, which I believe to be both real and negative, from other stressors on species and networks in the environment.

    It is my opinion that addressing all the stressors will be necessary if we are to preserve a modicum of biodiversity. Sadly, I think that expending the bulk of our efforts to fight global warming will condemn many of the species we hope to save, as they will succumb to habitat invasion, pollution, over-hunting (and over-fishing) and invasive competition.

    I have not changed my stance, my opinion, or my writing.

  316. Shub Niggurath Says:

    You post here with your real name. I don’t tend to use colorful language and certainly not against famous people who post with their real name. Feel free to indulge in personal attacks, that is why my pseudonym is there – it brings out the ‘best’ in those who attack.

    You are a strange person, Jeff. I already gave you my reasons for the links on my blog – to get it out of the way.

    Why can’t you get past that?

    I certainly am not interested in any explanation for why you thought I was a ‘contrarian’. You called me one – I said I am not. That could have been the end of it.

    You have not given a single substantive answer to a few simple questions I have asked, right from the beginning. Let me be even more specific. You threw in the number 35% casually, in the very second post, right at the top of this blog. How did you arrive at that figure? It is simple really. I am not asking you to produce a specific citation or “a similar type of nonsensical question that one frequently comes across. I simply want to know how you arrive at these kind of figures.

    I laid out my overview of how these types of percent figures are arrived at a few posts above. I showed good faith; I read the references you provided. I provided a critique of these methods. You won’t discuss them.

    So be it. If I write a paper I’ll request you as a reviewer. Maybe you can answer my questions there.

  317. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    I do not deny that the number was a pure ‘guesstimate’ based on comments from several scientists working in the region. Let me put it this way. We know that Brazil has lost about 15% of its primary forests directly. We also know that fire is heavily used to destroy vegetation or, more importantly, understory. We also know – as I have seen first hand – that many large trees have been selectively logged and dragged through the forest, creating all kinds of collateral damage. Based on discussions with colleagues, my guess is that, if one combined the effects of understory fires and high-grade logging, plus the loss of primary forests that 35% is certainly well within a realistic estimate of damage. Now, if we factor in the recent massive drought, I think that my figure is hardly ‘excessive’. I have been there and I saw what is happening. Sure, governments of the region want to play the damage down, much like they have done in Malaysia and elsewhere. And we must also remember that forest destruction does not reduce absolute poverty, it exacerbates it. Several studies in Brazil have shown this to be the case – and we also know from polls carried out over many years in Brazil that the public overwhelmingly wants to protect its forests and not to destroy them. Destruction is the agenda of the privileged few.

    And let us not forget the sub-tropical forests along the Atlantic coast of Brazil (The ‘Mata Atlantica’) of which we know at least 88% are gone. And what about tropical wet forests elsewhere in the world – are they not ecologically vital as well? Why not expand the discussion and include them. When I was in the Genting Highlands in Malaysia, as well as in supposedly isolated Taman Negara National Park in 1996, I could hear the endless whine of chainsaws. The same when I was in southern Cameroon (2006) and west of Manaus, Brazil (2000). Specks of smoke were visible over much of their horizon. Tropical forests are under threat. Climate change is the latest factor to throw into the ring.

    Lastly, no more hectoring you over your web site. We’ll stick to the topic at hand.

  318. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harvey, I realize this has been used unfarily as a red herring by skeptics in the past, but I’m wondering about what happened in North American forests. 95% of them were logged, but only 4 bird species were lost.

    I am not trying to use this as an excuse for inaction or to invalidate other research. I just want to know what happened. Were contiguous territories sufficiently similar, was the deforestation staged temporally which allowed in-migration to unaffected areas–what actually happened?

  319. Harry Says:

    @Bernard J,

    I think I have been found guilty and accordingly been sentenced by you?

    I live in the Netherlands. A small country, with 16 million inhabitants. Before I open my back door, I have to ask my neighbours to replace their garbage can (joking). But quite accurate. When I go to sleep, I can enjoy the sounds of the neighbours having sex before I start my own show (no joke).

    Our landscape is artificial, has nothing to do with nature. Everything is regulated, up and until jokingly regulations.

    And where in the world do you think that human interference has not yet occurred? It comes to me as if you have been hiding under a tile for the last 50 years. Wake up!. Show a google earth image of a pristine area in Canada? And I will point you to the truck of a logger. I think you are still living in a dream, what once was. Every area of this planet has been contaminated by the fingerprints of human beings. (the deep oceans excluded)

    PLease, come back to planet earth.

  320. Harry Says:

    @J Bernard,

    And when reading your posts on this site, I must admit: you are of the joking type. How can you possibly admit that the european landscape is not natural? If it is not natural, means that I was correct in stating that it was a cultivated park?

  321. Harry Says:

    @Bernard J:

    I was in the USA, 28th november 2009. Location: Grand Canyon. Occasion: large fires in the forest. This was controlled burning, to reduce the underwood. And you are going to tell me that this is natural? That the woods of the Grand Canyon are self sustainable? Are you nuts?

  322. Sou Says:

    You might have to suffer a crowded city, Harry. But you are able to survive because there are still areas on earth that are more biologically diverse (ie have more than humans, dogs, cats, rats, insects etc).

    Are you still arguing that humans will survive despite destroying the life support systems on earth, because we can breed ice bears in zoos?

  323. Shub Niggurath Says:

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/02/amazon-deforestation-up-1000-percent-from-last-year.php

    What the article discusses is real. But talking about these things in percent terms is very misleading.

  324. William Says:

    Jeff Id disappeared from sight on a point that he raised himself. He also has provided no evidence of a left wing conspiracy.

  325. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Tom Fuller,

    You wrote, “95% of them [NA forests] were logged, but only 4 bird species were lost”.

    This statement is overly simplisitic. It seems like you’ve been into Lomborg’s or Simon’s awful books for your information.

    First of all, 95% of forests were never lost at one single time frame. The most forest that was cleared from the eastern United States was 52% (in about 1870). Moreover, most eastern North American birds are habitat generalists. The foud species that disappeared were restricted to eastern deciduosu forests, with the exception of the passenger pigeon, where a combination of habitat fragmentation and hunting were the key factors. The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker only barely survives, as does the Black-Capped Vireo. The area-extintion models very accurately predicted species loss (Pimmand Askins, 1995; PNAS).

    Harry, Holland is not the planet. Few places are as ecologically disturbed as the Netherlands. The bottom line is not how wide the human fingerprint is across the biosphere, but how much that fingerprint has undermined the ability of natural systems to maintain, regulate and sustain themselves. Clearly, we are fortunate that natural systems are clearly resilient enough to withstand quite profoundly large levels of simplification. But it would be unwise to think that we can plunder the entire planet and not expect there to be serious consequences (in fact, there already are). Sou nails it – Holland is livabel because vital ecological services are generated elsewhere where human impacts have been much less.

  326. Tom Fuller Says:

    Harvey, I knew the statement was oversimplistic, which is why I asked. (Didn’t get it from Lomborg or Simon, although I have read both quite a bit.)

    So, staged deforestation coupled with broad geographic range is the principal explanation of the survival of the majority of species, in any event?

    If that’s a good summary, thank you for your assistance. If I have over-simplified or generalized, please let me know.

  327. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    It seems that Tom Fuller has learned the Judith Curry technique. Make unsupportable claims and when they are shown to be false walk them back by claiming “I never said that”.

    On the broader point. the history of deforestation in the US marched westward. As farmers left the east coast and moved west of the Adirondacks deforestation followed, with reduced pressure in the east. But more importantly the point raised by Jeff Harvey about most bird species in the east being generalists (“weedy” species) is more important. Simplified ecosystems can survive for a time based on weedy species occupying niches previously occupied by specialists but they become more unstable. I am sure that either Jeff or Bernard will be happy to comment on this principal.

  328. Stephen Says:

    Jeff Harvey and Sou: Rich countries live to an ever greater extent off ecosystem services outside their borders – just 17% of Europe’s ecosystems are in decent shape according to the European Enviro Agency. http://bit.ly/gqrBVX

  329. Tom Fuller Says:

    The Norwewgian Rat will find no cheese on his witch hunt. Not brie,not edam not even gouda.

    The unsupportable claim he thinks I made? The world wonders…

  330. Sou Says:

    @ Stephen, Thanks for the article. I’m surprised that the European politicians were ‘shocked’. I thought the percentages quoted would have been no surprise to anyone.

    Hopefully more and more people will start thinking along the lines of your article and the world will manage to retain important ecosystems in the longer term.

  331. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Rattus

    You do realize that there is in reality, nothing that can be termed a weed, right?

  332. adelady Says:

    Thanks from me too Stephen. That notion of the European borders and ecosystem services rang a bell. Can’t remember where i saw / heard it, but at least one person has pointed out that the problem of overfishing the world’s oceans has a precursor.

    The main reason Europeans went further and further into the wider oceans of the world for fish was because …. they’d already overfished. fished out, their own rivers. A bit simplistic, but a very interesting perspective nevertheless.

  333. Bernard J. Says:

    Harry.

    I know something of The Netherlands, having been born there and having lived there for a number of years. You’re not telling me anything about which I don’t already intimately know. Your comparison of the greatly altered countryside of this country, with the remaining non built-upon parts of Europe, is spurious – a comparison of apples and oranges.

    Whether or not you can hear your neighbours having sex if you press your ear to the wall is not germane to the discussion, nor is the fact that the small part of the planet in which you lurk is “artificial”. The planet is rather bigger than just The Netherlands, and you obviously don’t travel much if you do not understand this. When you say things like:

    Show a google earth image of a pristine area in Canada? And I will point you to the truck of a logger. I think you are still living in a dream, what once was. Every area of this planet has been contaminated by the fingerprints of human beings.

    you are playing pedantic little games of semantics. There are huge swathes of the planet that are still very mjuch ecologically functional without any input from humans required and that, you poor little uneducated lad, is that.

    How can you possibly admit that the european landscape is not natural? If it is not natural, means that I was correct in stating that it was a cultivated park?

    You are breathtaking in the sheer scale of your employment of logical fallacy.

    You first provide a false dilemma by saying that the European landscape must either be natural or not (a “cultivated park”), with no third alternative. Your proposition about the parkland nature of Europe is also a fallacy of inappropriate generalization, as well as a fallacy of composition.

    You put words into my mouth – I never argued that Europe was still a completely natural environment – so you’re forcing upon me a position that doesn’t represent my stance: a strawman.

    Your argument also demonstrates shades of the fallacy ofpetitio principii, and your repetition of your insistence that Europe has no nature is an argumentum ad nauseam.

    You have engaged the fallacy of moving the goalposts – the original criticism of your posts centred on your claims to possessing God-like powers over life, about which I note you have been somewhat more quiet than when you first stood up to pronounce your Divinity. And somehow your strategy also exhibits aspects of the red herring style of
    fallacy.

    For fun I’ve slipped in a fallacious strategy of my own, but I will leave it to you to detect it if you’re so inclined. What really matters however is that your argument fails, abyssmally, any scrutiny for rationality.

    As does your comment:

    I was in the USA, 28th november 2009. Location: Grand Canyon. Occasion: large fires in the forest. This was controlled burning, to reduce the underwood. And you are going to tell me that this is natural? That the woods of the Grand Canyon are self sustainable? Are you nuts?

    I’ll leave it to you (or perhaps to a morbidly interested third party) to dissect out the logical fallacies in that paragraph of yours…

    So, now that we have out of the way a deconstruction of the poverty of your arguments thus far, perhaps you could start again with a summary of why the impact of global warming upon biodiversity is not a problem.

  334. Bernard J. Says:

    Rattus

    You do realize that there is in reality, nothing that can be termed a weed, right?

    Ah, the semantic zen gambit…

    Shub Niggurath.

    You do realise that there is, in reality, nothing that you can say that can be held as correct?

  335. J Bowers Says:

    @ Bernard J

    Go here and scroll down to the orange text:

    http://circleh.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/damning-evidence-of-fraud-by-nils-axel-morner/

    As you were everyone.

  336. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Bernard J
    You have indulged yourself quite a bit on this thread. No specific facts, just a lot of loose claims and generalized riffing. Weird.

    You have correctly identified that nothing can be held as correct, in one sense.

    That is not what I told Rattus.

    I want to see if you can shake off the cobwebs you are spinning with your own prose and see if you can correctly identify which category of rhetoric, what I said to Rattus, belongs to.

    In making your point (?), you seem to have fallen into the ‘become so full of yourself’ gambit. I wonder if it will work

  337. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Shub,

    There seems to be definition…

    Naturalised non-indigenous plant species, outside the agricultural or garden context, which adversely affects the survival or regeneration of indigenous species in natural or partly natural vegetation communities.

    From here.

    I think Bernard was saying you are wrong. And you are.

  338. Dale Husband Says:

    J Bowers,

    Unfortunately, the web page I drew the orange text from has been deleted, so I cannot use the testimony against Nils Axel-Morner unless and until the paper referred to is put back on the internet somewhere. But what I found even more astounding, and what is still accessible, is this:

    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/OpenLetter.doc.pdf

    {{{Mr. President,
    You have recently held an undersea Cabinet meeting to raise awareness of the idea that global sea level is rising and hence threatens to drown the Maldives. This proposition is not founded in observational facts and true scientific judgements, Accordingly it is incorrect.

    Therefore, I am most surprised at your action and must protest to its intended message.

    In 2001, when our research group found overwhelming evidence that sea level was by no means in a rising mode in the Maldives, but had remained quite stable for the last 30 years, I thought it would not be respectful to the fine people of the Maldives if I were to return home and present our results in international fora. Therefore, I announced this happy news during an interview for your local TV station. However, your predecessor as president censored and stopped the broadcast.}}}

    No legitimate scientist acts or talks like this. As I stated as commentary:

    [[[Actually, this is exactly how con artists faking science operate; they avoid the process of peer review through publishing in science journals and go directly to the public with their claims, which they present as fact to decieve the scientifically illiterate. I’m amazed he would admit to this publicly!]]]

    I’m not half as stupid as Morner seems to think his audience is!

  339. Dale Husband Says:

    THANK YOU!!!!

    http://circleh.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/damning-evidence-of-fraud-by-nils-axel-morner/#comment-839

  340. SteveF Says:

    May be a bit late as this thread seems to have died, but in Nature this week:

    Barnosky, A.D. et al. (2011) Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471, 51-57.

    Not read it yet as it’s just come out in the past few minutes but here’s the abstract (note last line):

    Palaeontologists characterize mass extinctions as times when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short interval, as has happened only five times in the past 540 million years or so. Biologists now suggest that a sixth mass extinction may be under way, given the known species losses over the past few centuries and millennia. Here we review how differences between fossil and modern data and the addition of recently available palaeontological information influence our understanding of the current extinction crisis. Our results confirm that current extinction rates are higher than would be expected from the fossil record, highlighting the need for effective conservation measures.

  341. Harry Says:

    @Bernard J,

    ” there are huge swathes of the planet that are still very mjuch ecologically functional without any input from humans required and that, you poor little uneducated lad, is that. ”

    I think I never disputed this, I rather think I was the one to mention this. In my opinion, every niche will be occupied once it becomes available. The powers of life (sic) are so enormous, that they will occupy any free habitat at once. It is only a matter of vision: we humans think that we should control nature. Why should we?

    But you nailed it: “ecologically functional”.

    Could you please elaborate on this? What would be something that is “ecologically disfunctional”?

    And I asked you for examples of pristine areas on this planet. So far. no answer.

  342. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Harry, We will discuss this later in the week.

    Have you ever herard about the work done by Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel on ‘Ecological Footprints”?

    Basically, what their anlysis shows, is that every developed nation on Earth ‘imports’ ecological carrying capacity from outside of their own borders. In other words, the ‘rich’ world maintains disproportionate control of the planet’s natural capital by ‘taking’ it from less developed nations with much lower per capita impacts on their land masses. The Netherlands finances a 5-6 hectare per capita deficit in its ecological footprint; were one to cover the country in a bubble and to force it to sustain itself, the Dutch economy would collapse within months, as we have nothing near to the necessary amount of land to support a population of 16 million people at current levels of consumption and waste production. We export our ecological damage and import our carrying capacity. All developed nations do. It explains why, IMO the developed world is not at all serious about eliminating poverty in the third world. We covet their resources but our corporate and state planners are smart enough to realize that if everyone on Earth consumed resources like the average person in the developed world does, then we’d need another 2 or 3 Earth like planets to sustain the damage. Read the words of influential planners and politicians over the years: Kennan, Butler, Kissinger et al., and the pattern should become instantly clear. Also read declassified planning documents (e.g. ‘Web of Deceit’by Mark Curtis) and it becomes evident that our governments are terrified that people in lands whose resources we covet will embrace ‘nationalism’, whereby they elect governments that attempt to use their own resources to benefit their own people. Our planners oppose this simply because it conflicts with the itnerests of western corporations. The overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemela were completely in line with this.

    This ties in very closely with what Bernard was saying. When he says ‘functional” he is referring to ecosystems that are healthy enough to be able to generate conditions that permit humans to exist and to persist. Many of the planet’s natural areas are still intact enough to be able to sustain themselves as well as us and other life. As a biologist, you ought to nbe able to understand this even in the most basic terms. What processes do you think are involved in maintaining the atmosphere we breath? Purify water? Cycle nutrients? Maintain the integrity of food webs and ecosystems? Replenish soil fertility?

    I know molecular biologists tend to often have a simplisitic view of the biosphere, but com eon Harry, you can do better. If you do not know waht we mean by ‘functional’, then it is my opinion that your learning curve is going to be a steep one.

  343. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Jeff,

    Somewhat OT, but I have always associated a learning curve with time devoted to study vs. understanding. In this understanding of the learning curve a steep learning curve is a good thing. Little devoted to study leads to strong understanding of the field. Am area of study which takes time and effort to understand has a slow (or shallow) learning curve.

    Harry obviously has a long slow learning curve to surmount.

  344. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    BTW, lest anyone think that I know what I am talking about…

    I spent several years absorbing this stuff while my father worked on his Masters in plant ecology. I went on field trips with his class and listened to what his professors had to say. I assisted him in gathering data for his thesis. I learned a lot, but my knowledge of the current state of the science is sadly 35 years out of date. The basics remain though.

    I found this subject fascinating enough to want to study it in college. However one of the breadth classes I had to take was computer programming, and I was really good at it. When I looked at job prospects in one field vs. the other and what my debt load would be coming out of school, the choice was clear.

  345. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Jeff
    Your terms ‘healthy’, ‘replenish’, ‘sustain’, ‘purify’ fall in the same pit as the word ‘functional’ did.

  346. sidd Says:

    ecologically dysfunctional:

    Mud River, WV

  347. Harry Says:

    Jeff,

    I have not heard of Wackernagl and Rees. But I will try to get my copy and read it. Before we discuss.

    Thanks.

  348. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Ecologically illiterate: Shub Niggurath.

  349. Shub Says:

    Rattus
    It is comments such as yours that spoil the discussion.

    Jeff’s constant personal taunts of Harry in the post above, fall in the same category.

    When Harry questioned the concept of ecologic ‘functionality’ above, he raises a very important issue. This is the same question I have always asked, and I don’t think there is any easy answer to his question. It would probably be accurate to say there is no answer at all.

    Yet Jeff Harvey glibly pretends that he and Bernard are successfully providing some insightful answers to the question, that Harry being the mentally retarded molecular biologist that he is, cannot understand using his simple brain. What a joke.

    Let me repeat Harry’s question, just for recapitulation: “What would be something that is “ecologically dysfunctional[sic]”?

    To be sure, no science or scientist should be forced to answer such a question, but it is also the responsibility of specialists and experts in a discipline to frame their arguments in a manner that avoids such intellectual cul-de-sacs. But then of course, Jeff and Bernard have the answers, so I guess it is OK.

    Jeff Harvey’s framing of ‘ecologic function’ does not avoid any intellectual cul-de-sac. In fact, his definition of ecologic ‘function’ appears to refer to any process that allows for the survival of man. This is laughable.

    Let me give you an example: In medicine, doctors in training do not ‘learn’ about what ‘health’ is. They are not taught what ‘health’ is at all, during their entire training. Their textbooks do not use the word ‘health’. The word ‘health’ will not appear in a text book of anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology or even physiology.

    I wonder why they avoid the term when the acquisition of all the knowledge is ultimately towards promotion of ‘health’.

    And yes, Rattus, I learned ecology from my mother. She studied Ecology and Special Zoology in college and lavished her fresh knowledge on a very young me, when I was old enough to start understanding stuff she’d talk to me about. We would go on beach trips collecting sea anemones, small and large shells and I grew up reading her books on evolution, zoology and ecology. She used to tell me about her ecology professor, who was a bit of a ecoscience-evangelist, and how she worked hard at getting the institution to fund her course and support her students’ field trips.

    I think she would have gone down if she were to put on an act that some of eco-know-it-alls, including you, are carrying on in this thread.

  350. JvdLaan Says:

    Odd, it seems that everybody’s father or mother is suddenly a professor in ecology and as a result everybody considers themselves an expert in the field.

  351. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    Let’s get straight to the facts: IMHO you suffer from the D-K syndrome as much as anyone I have ever met. Your problem is that you think you can have an intellectual discussion on the same level as a scientist who has spent years working in the field. Well, you can’t. You do not understand basic ecology and you huff and puff when someone with the necessary expertise (e.g. me, Bernard) are critical when someone in a sub-organismal discipline makes some snide remarks about functionality. I don’t care what your mother studied. You clearly have not studied systems, population or evolutionary ecology. Your posts are comedy personified.

    One of the major parts of ecology is to better understand the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. We are trying to discern how much redundancy there is in different systems with different evolutionary histories. Functionality is based on the various definitions of stability, including reslience and resistance. It is based on the ability of a system to be self-sustaining without breaking down. It is based on sustainable rates of nutrient turnover, the regulation of biomass, ands so on. It is based on the ability of a system to brdetoxify wastes, and to replenish the purity of the soil and of the water. It is based on the generation of a range of critical supporting services that sustain life in a manner that we know. As humans simplify nature, systems become less efficient at maintaining the processes I describe above.

    Before you wade in here and make an idiot of yourself again, reasd some literature on the subject. ‘Levin’s ‘Fragile Dominion’, Pimm’s ‘The Balance of Nature’ or Mauer’s ‘Untangling Ecological Complexity are good starters. Type in the words ‘biodiversity and ecosystem function’into the Web of Science search engine and you get 1488 hits. Type in the words ‘ecosytem functioning’ and you get 2861 hits. So get off your lazy butt and do some reading before wading in here again with your nonsense.

    I am not going to waste my time as a scientist responding at length to somone (you, Shub) whose understanding of the field is that of a kindergarten student.

  352. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Still more…

    “What would be something that is “ecologically dysfunctional[sic]”?

    This should be patently obvious, in light of what we know about the field. Its so simple that to have to answer it is a waste of time. But since Shub does not understand basic ecology, I will respond.

    A healthy, viable system functions in equlibrium. Inputs = outputs, covering a range of processes and rates of turnover. Once the system is overly simplified, it no longer functions in equlibrium. If some biotic or abiotic process leads to the loss of species or species guilds performing vital functions, then the functions they provide may be lost or reduced below a sustainable threshold. These functions can be nutrient cycling, water purification, succession, pest control, pollination or other supporting services. There are many examples where systems have been reduced in diversity and as a consequence some of these services have either been lost or their efficiency greatly reduced. Yvone Baskin describes some examples in her books, ‘The Work of Nature’ and ‘Underground’.

    Other outstanding books discussing vital ecosystem functions are by Chapin et al. (2002) ‘Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology’ and Walker (2006) ‘Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World’. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006) is another source.

    Shub’s strategy, if one can call it that, is to expect Bernard and me to spend hours on here responding to various kinds of drivel, including quips about ‘functionality’ when all one has to do is to type the words into the Google search engine to be bombarded with information and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies in the field.

    Here’s a link for the UK:

    http://www.abdn.ac.uk/ecosystem/bioecofunc/

    There is a ton more. Shub, get off your butt and look for it.

  353. Bart Says:

    Guys, let’s keep it civil please.

    Agreeing to disagree is always a better option than namecalling.

  354. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Bart,

    I resort to namcalling if and only if I am’sufficiently ‘baited’. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me if they have the empirical foundations on which to do so. But I have explained the signifciance of the term ‘functional’ in purely ecological terms. Shub’s last reposte was beyond the pale.

    I have better things to do with my time than to deal with people like Shub who think they know a lot more than they actually do. His contribution to this thread has been virtually non-existant – to criticize esteemed experts like Nepstad and on the basis of what? Nix. And if he wants to learn a little about the term ‘functional’ then he ought to get off of his backside and do some reading. The questions I have addressed do not have polar opposites. Ecological systems are not either ‘functional’ or ‘dysfunctional'; they can sustain functions (like nutrient cycling within equilibrium) or lose their ability to sustain these functions. Harry should have known better.

    As for Shub…..

  355. Shub Says:

    ‘D-K syndrome, idiot, lazy butt, kindergarten student’

    Nice going, Dr Harvey. It was very illuminating reading your posts addressed to me.

    As I said before earlier, if we sweep aside the mountain of personal abuse you managed to direct at me, what are we left with?

    [1] To begin with, I said that your initial offering for the concept of ‘ecological functionality’ was ‘laughable’. This, obviously, raised your hackles.

    [2] In response however, you have provided three ‘definitions’ or characterizations of what constitutes ‘ecological functionality’. Let me gently remind you, at this juncture, dear sir – I am not someone to simply hang on to certain words and exclaim mindlessly: “This is what you said” or “That is not what you said”.

    [3] But these new characterizations are *significantly different* in import and substance, when compared to the one you originally offered Harry, viz., ecological functionality is a state which allows humans to flourish.

    So, you refined/changed/modified the concept of ‘functionality’ in response to questions from Harry and me. But yet, you call me names?

    You did the same thing upthread. You piled a veritable mountain of abuse when I questioned you on your sources for area estimates of human-caused Amazon damage. In the end, you revealed that these estimates were based on your own expert opinion and assessment.

    Even with your answers above, let me remind you, you have not grasped Harry’s subtle question.

  356. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Actually Shub, Jeff gave a pretty solid definition here:

    One of the major parts of ecology is to better understand the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. We are trying to discern how much redundancy there is in different systems with different evolutionary histories. Functionality is based on the various definitions of stability, including resilience and resistance. It is based on the ability of a system to be self-sustaining without breaking down. It is based on sustainable rates of nutrient turnover, the regulation of biomass, and so on. It is based on the ability of a system to detoxify wastes, and to replenish the purity of the soil and of the water.

  357. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Yes, Rattus. That is sort of a defintion. However, it is different from this definition.

    When he says ‘functional” he is referring to ecosystems that are healthy enough to be able to generate conditions that permit humans to exist and to persist.

  358. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Shub, just because you are looking for a crisp definition of a very complex and multi-faceted concept does not make Jeff wrong or dithering or whatever you want to call it. There are many different aspects to the concept and in his last couple of posts Jeff has captured the essential aspects of it.

    I was thinking of trying to write a definition of ecosystem functionality for you but quickly realized that it was a fool’s errand. No matter what I said, I was going to leave something out.

    For example in the text which you quote, he is referring to the provision of “ecosystem services” to the human economy. From an anthropocentric viewpoint this is the most important thing that a functioning ecosystem can provide to the human economy. This is sort of the minimal level of functionality that we can live with, but it may not be sustainable, which is another important part of the concept.

  359. sidd Says:

    Dr. Harvey:

    I do appreciate that you are tired of having to correct posters who make elementary and unfounded errors and that you have better uses of your time. I feel, though that your comments are a very valuable education for people like me, especially the references. May I suggest that you ignore posters who arouse your ire, and if you have a moment to spare, now and then, please do continue commenting here.

    sidd

  360. willard Says:

    For what it’s worth, the concept of function leads to a philosophical quagmire:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/teleology-biology/

    And speaking of the concept of health:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/health-disease

    Even the mathematical concept of function has a complicated history:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Function_%28mathematics%29#History

  361. Shub Niggurath Says:

    [1] Yes, Rattus, if we accept the facets presented in the last two posts, these are facets that do not require ‘humans’ to be understood as a definition. His first offering (put forward to defend Bernard) included humans. That is a big difference (to the point that was being put forward at the time).

    [2] Secondly, when you say:

    I was thinking of trying to write a definition of ecosystem functionality for you but quickly realized that it was a fool’s errand. No matter what I said, I was going to leave something out.

    you are in agreement with my post above (for which you called me an illiterate).

    ‘Function’ is a nebulous, diffuse concept, which is very difficult to pin down; it may well be just a mirage. (see points I made earlier in this thread about ‘kidney functioning’ and ‘teleology’). The concept of function is best avoided in scientific discussions. Did it ever strike you why Harry and I have picked up at the same points at different times?

    [3] Many presenters flip very casually and imperceptibly between anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric perspectives. I find it very disconcerting, I can’t help it.

  362. willard Says:

    Asking someone to define a scientific concept known to be nebulous is asking for trouble. Presuming we need to pin down this nebulous scientific concept before taking seriously a whole field of investigation sets up a Procrustean bed, i.e. a criterium bound to fail.

    Nebulous concepts are oftentimes more useful than absurd criteria.

    For what it’s worth, Popper was against turning science into a definition parlor game.

  363. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Just a quick reminder, willard.

    The original issue was whether such a thing as ‘ecological function’ even existed. It was not about definitions, per se.

    If you look closely, ‘function’ disappears. Ecosystems/systems ‘function’ at all levels of complexity and irrespective of how densely populated they are by their different constituent elements. There can be no dysfunctional ecosystems.

  364. willard Says:

    Shub,

    A function is not a thing. It is a concept.

    If you look at a forest close enough, you hit a tree.

    Jeff Harvey is making sense, however he reacts to riddles, be they definitional or ontological.

    But I like riddles.

  365. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    Shub,

    At the level of whether or not “ecological function” exists or not let’s put it simply — it does.

    However every time some level of the concept is explained, you move the goalposts. There are many different levels of function in an ecosystem and even a severely can provide some level of ecosystem services (check out agriculture for one), yet fail when evaluated at higher levels.

  366. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Sidd,

    I appreciate your reply and I will continue to answer any queries that you may have regarding the functional importance of biodiversity.

    I was a bit dismayed at Harrie’s response – as a biologist he should know better than to make a frankly hollow remark about ‘dysfuntionality’ when the entire field of systems ecology hinges on the concept of ‘function’. As I showed yesterday, the empirical literaure is replete with studies addressing the question. The problem, as I see it, is that there are many people who have a passing interest in the field of ecology who then take a cursory glance at some general book and presto! They are instant authorities. Charles Darwin once said that ‘Ignorance begets confidence more often than knowledge’ and this sums up the Dunning-Kruger effect I alluded to yesterday. What I see in the field of ecology is that many people consider themselves to be veritable ‘experts’ on the basis of having read a paper or two or a natural history book. I would never make pedantic remarks assuming that I had expertise in fields outside of my own – climate science for example – I stick to the views of the vast majority of trained professionals in the field and when it comes to making assertions about science I can only confidently tread in ecology and evolutionary biology, where I have more than 20 years of experience.

    Shub for his part, seems to take offence at most everything Beranrd and I say as qualified ecologists. Actually, Shub should be happy that I respond to some of his points at all; 99.9% + of my colleagues would not give his remarks the time of day. But I have always maintained that scientists should expend more effort to reach the general public, even if this means being challenged on the most pedantic issues or by those who think that they know more than the scientists actually doing the actual research. A few years ago there was a high school student on a contrarian web site who posited all kinds of silly rubbish about biodiversity and when I countered it I was heaped with abuse from most of the other posters on the site. This explains why I avoid what I perceive to be fervently anti-scientific blogs like CA and WUWT who IMO are pushing agendas other than science.

    The bottom line here is that the entire field of ecosystem services is targeted at valuation from an anthropocentric perspective, because what is good for humanity in terms of ‘life support functions’ is ultimately good for the rest of nature. Too many pundits blindly assume that humans have evolved beyond most or all constraints imposed by natural systems, and that somehow we can continue to hammer away at nature without any serious or lasting repercussions on human civilization. Humans are slowly trying to take control of systems across the biosphere – meaning primary production and freshwater flows – whilst leaving less and less for the rest of nature. Ultimately we will lose more in the process. Every natural system on Earth is in decline as a result of human overconsumption. The current cumulative ecological footprint exceeds the planet’s ability to sustainably regenerate itself. In fact, the cumulative footprint of the developed world alone is in deficit – explaining why government planners in the developed world are not at all serious IMO about eliminating poverty from the south. This is an entirely different, albeit closely connected, discussion. I am happy to see Harrie checking up on some of the relevant literature by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees. An excellent book by Tom Athanasiou – “Divided Planet – The Ecology of Rich and Poor” also makes the case quite clear.

  367. jakerman Says:

    In my opinion, every niche will be occupied once it becomes available. The powers of life (sic) are so enormous, that they will occupy any free habitat at once. It is only a matter of vision: we humans think that we should control nature.

    Harry the niches filled in rich bio-system such as and old growth forest ecosystem do not compare with the niches filled once that ecosystem is destroyed and replaced with a mono culture crop.

  368. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub writes, “Even with your answers above, let me remind you, you have not grasped Harry’s subtle question”.

    Harry’s question was not subtle. It was about as deep as a puddle. You may think it is subtle, but you are not in any position to judge because you lack the proper training to do so. JAkerman also does a good job of countering a simple point made by Harry earlier. This argument of the ‘powers of life’ is totally without foundation. Humans are freeing habitats of their biota at rates unseen in 65 million years. Certainly systems can recover to some extent, but whether they will be ecologically sustainable and resilient is open to serious doubt. Vital functions and services – such as the ones I alluded to yesterday – may be reduced or eliminated altogether. Thomas Lovejoy provides and excellent example in the foreward to Yvonne Baskin’s book ‘The Work of Nature’. Filter feeding bivalves in the Chesepeake Bay were once so numerous that they would filter the entire waters of the bay in a week. Filtering is a form of water purification, one of many ecological services that act as free subsidies from nature. As humans began to harvest large numbers of clams and bivalves from the bay, and as polluation levels increased, the filter-feeding capacity of these keystone organisms diminished. Now, it takes a month or more for the remaining bivalves there to filter the waters – a clear sign of a vital service that has been negatively affected because of a combination of human-induced stresses. While I agree with you that nature’s services should not be viewed strictly in an anthropocentric light, the reason scientists do this is to reveal how utterly dependent our species is on nature’s free subsidies and what the potential economic and societal consequences are of losing them.

    With no disrespect to Harry, the question of functionality lies at the heart of systems ecology. That he didn’t know that (or apparently didn’t know it) suggests thatr he needs to broaden his perspective of the field. Moreover, whether he likes it or not, humans are attempting to control nature. Every time we drain a wetland ot cut down a forest or pave over a grassland we are doing this.

    With respect to human effects on the Amazon, it is not an area that I actively work on. I defer again to the experts in the field – the Lovejoy’s, Balmford’s, Brooks’, Pimm’s and Nepstads who do. And not to some apparently self-proclaimed armchair ‘expert’ who has no pedigree in the field. As I said before, reading a couple of zoology books and walking through meadows photographing flowers does not make one a qualified ecologist. It takes years of research and study. Given the shallow depth of many of your arguments, most of which appear to be made just to disagree for the sake of disagreeing, I have far better things to do. If you want to attempt to discuss deep ecology, then try. How many qualified scientists actually correspond with you, Shub? A: not many. To the general reader here it should be clear why.

  369. Shub Says:

    rattus, Willard,
    There are no riddles, there is no goal-post shifting. Look at the fourth post I made in this thread (written about 17 days ago). I said:

    Trying to talk about things like ‘functional importance’ of ‘biodiversity’ is like trying to talk about the ‘functional importance’ of the kidney in the human body. We’ll only get mired in teleology.

    A little later, I wrote to Harvey:

    In the end, I have two points of contention, which I will reiterate;

    they relate to the teleological outlook and the vulnerability rhetoric in ecologic sciences, which you so heartily embrace.

    In other words, I have engaged in this thread quite focused on only these two aspects. So there is no shifting going on. If ‘ecologic function’ has so many facets as you claim, rattus, it only supports what I mentioned above – such a concept becomes useless scientifically.

    Moreover I had conceded that that a dispute regarding function vs teleology, is virtually impossible to address or tackle in verbal discussions.

    Harvey and Bernard on the other hand, stand enlightened about ‘function’, having pierced the veil of nature. They know it. I just intervened to say: ‘Hey, I don’t think you do’.

    Harvey the scientist is upset, not because of the “riddles” or the “goal-post shifting” but because of: “who the f**K is this anonymous **** asking me, the ecology expert questions and making claims?”

    My view is that there is nothing called ‘ecological function’. Consequently, there is nothing called ‘ecosystem serivce’. Consequently, there is no ‘subsidy’. Obviously, I refer to these concepts when I say they don’t exist, not the material objects that exist in nature, from whence these concepts are derived. Don’t tell me I did take a stand, or only “disagreed for the sake of disagreement”. I disagreed because I had grounds to do so.

    I have my own ideas of why these types of ideas have gained popularity (in generalist circles) in more recent years. Let us go ahead a stick a dollar sign on everything in nature. That way we will surely prevent environmental ‘degradation’. Heh.

    If I find any citations to support my view of ‘ecologic function’, I will come back to present them.

    Out.

  370. sidd Says:

    Dr. Harvey: There was a paper recently (Boyce et al, Nature, v406, pp 591 et seq, 2010) indicating a 1% annual decline in phytoplankton over the last few decades. This seems like a very large fraction of a major CO2 sink. I would also have thought that removing such a large component of the base of oceanic food chains would have a large effect on other marine creatures. Has such an effect been noticed ?

    sidd

  371. sidd Says:

    I made an error in my previous comment: the correct reference is Boyce et al, Nature v466, pp591 et seq. 2010

    sidd

  372. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    It’s not the moving goalposts. It’s the fact that you consistently make hand-waving assertions that make no sense.

    “If ‘ecologic function’ has so many facets as you claim, rattus, it only supports what I mentioned above – such a concept becomes useless scientifically.”

    Huh? Is complexity a domain where science dare not intrude? Says who?

    I’ll make it simple.

    Can the human body survive without kidney function? Can human civilization thrive without the ecological functions that produce food, fresh water, or clean air?

    Those are not teleological questions.

  373. willard Says:

    Shub,

    First, your claimed this:

    > Trying to talk about things like ‘functional importance’ of ‘biodiversity’ is like trying to talk about the ‘functional importance’ of the kidney in the human body. We’ll only get mired in teleology.

    Now, you claim this:

    > My view is that there is nothing called ‘ecological function’. [...] I refer to these concepts when I say they don’t exist, not the material objects that exist in nature, from whence these concepts are derived.

    These are two different arguments. These are even two different kinds of argument.

    The first one is understandable, but wrong: there are ways to describe and explain functional systems without succumbing to teleology. These descriptions and explanations can even be compatible with naturalism.

    The second one is meant as a claim about the existence of a concept. Let me Google that one for you:

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=%22ecological+function%22+%22google+scholar%22

    As you can see, the concept seems to exist.

    ***

    On the other hand, you might wish to claim that the concept does not refer to anything that exist, like when you say:

    > ‘Function’ is a nebulous, diffuse concept, which is very difficult to pin down; it may well be just a mirage.

    A mirage is non-existent thing, not a non-existent concept. So here again we have a different argument. This argument reminds me of this one, which I’ll illustrate by way of an example:

    (1) The tires on Bart’s bike are elastic.
    (2) The atoms composing Bart’s tires are not elastic.
    (3) The elasticity of Bart’s tire is a mirage.

    Arguing that the notion of function is a mirage is like arguing that because the atoms of Bart’s bike are not elastic, the concept of elasticity is scientifically void.

    The confusion between the levels of description should be quite obvious. I surmise that the argument against the use of “function” commits the same kind of mistake.

    ***

    The notion of function might very well be a mirage. Who knows what really is conceptually impossible? Yet another argument from possibility.

    By the same token, it is not impossible that we will be able to recreate our ecological systems with the help of molecular biology. Who knows what the future will be? Yet another argument from futurology.

    ***

    Take all the time you need to look for your citations, I’ll dust up my Drestske and my Millikan.

  374. Shub Says:

    Dear Beauty,
    If something doesn’t make sense to you, it does not mean much. I am not waving anything here.

    I’ll make it simple as well.

    Home Depot wants to produce beautiful wooden tables, armchairs and bedstands from pristine Amazonian mahagony. It seems mahagony exists just to be made into tables and chairs, just like the clams clean our bays and the earthworms plough our topsoil and help us grow food.

  375. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    Please enlighten me as to the scientific literature that you have read on the subject of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. I gave a lengthy list the other day – it includes huge working projects currently underway including Cedar Creek, Biodepth, and our very own CLUE research in The Netherlands. My guess is that you’ve never read one article in the field. So why should I waste my busy time as a scientist if you are not willing – or able – to get out of the sandbox?

    By the way, Shub, you are correct in some of your assertions. By this I mean I don’t know of a single scientist who would have the patience to respond to some of your whoppers such as these:

    1. If ‘ecologic function’ has so many facets as you claim, rattus, it only supports what I mentioned above – such a concept becomes useless scientifically.

    2. My view is that there is nothing called ‘ecological function’. Consequently, there is nothing called ‘ecosystem serivce’.

    I will not engage in any kind of discourse with you until you can show me in even the simplest way that you know anything of which you discuss. Your apparent strategy is to say, “I have never read anything in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Therefore it does not exist”. This is like someone saying, “I have never ever read a thing about other planets in the solar system, so anything you say about them is garbage because no such planet’s exist”. In other words, your trick, if one can call it that, is to argue from the point of wilful ignorance and then to claim some sort of intellectual high ground.

    Unless you can show me that your understanding of the term ‘function’ in the context of systems biology is above that of a kindergarten student, then its a complete waste of my time responding to your various jibes. There are numerous sources: its not my job to teach you the basics. I am far too busy for that. Sorry to say, but, to reiterate, your views are totally meaningless. You clearly do not contribute to the scientific literature because it should be clear that you have never read any of the scientific literature. I have define function within the context of systemic properties of resilience, resistance and stability, as well as ecological sustainability. I have provided a number of examples whereby ecological services have been reduced due to various anthropogenic stresses. I have discussed the concept of ecological collapse and on the importance of biodiversity – species richness and on the functional groups or guilds – in generating process that are vital to system functions. I have talked about the significance of functional redundancy in providing ‘ backup’ (hence support) for systems that become simplified.

    I would like Shub to explain to me what he thinks of opposing hypotheses in discussing the importance of biodiversity in maintaining systemic integrity. So, Shub, do you agree more with the views of Tilman, Naeem, Lawton et al. or those of Huston, Grime, and Wardle et al? What do you think are the major trade-offs in species characteristics in maintaining stability and redundancy? what do you think of Carpenter’s seminal experiments in testing this? What do you think of the the importance of top-down versus bottom, up regulation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems? Are trophic cascades all wet? What do you think of the various meta-analytical studies addressing this question? What do you think is the role of structural and chemical heterogeneity in top-down versus bottom up processes? Do you agree more with May’s or McCann’s theoretical approaches to the diversity-stability debate? What do you think of the importance of links between below-ground and above-ground communities and of the effects of temporal lags on these systems? Do you think that selection is more important in above-ground plant communities or below-ground communities? What about selection regimes? Do you think that the discussion of diversity begets stability is context dependent? Trait-dependent? What are the traits and contexts that you think are important to address? What do you think of Hubbells’ neutral model of biodiversity? Or do you concur more with predictions emerging from the theory of island biogeography? What do you think about the Janzen-Connell hypothesis? Do you think it applies equally well in explaining patterns of diversity in temperate as well as tropical biomes?

    OK, I have thrown some relevant questions at you. I wait with baited breath for your reply.

  376. Shub Says:

    Dr Harvey
    I was about to reply to willard. It is good that I refreshed the page and caught your post.

    I told you right at the very beginning that I looked at some of your viewpoints and that it would be very difficult to find any common ground. I have read and I am reading on some of the many questions and issues you have thrown at me above.

    But, my critique of ‘function’ comes from an outsider perspective. Now, if I offer my viewpoints from such a perspective, the possibility of discussion moving forward only exists if what I say can be taken seriously.

    For that, I should have ‘ecology credibility’. I am not an ecologist, so how can I have that credibility? I cannot. I know this.

    Talking about “function” is just a way of thinking and framing. There can be no proof or disproof of ‘function’. What I am asking for is to find the difference between saying “the kidney produces urine” and saying “the function of the kidney is to produce urine”. You might react saying – it is all semantics. It is not. This is an important distinction.

    If you say: “the function of earth’s atmosphere is to support life forms by maintaining temperature within a stable narrow range and providing oxygen” and ask me to disprove that the atmosphere does not perform these “functions”, will I be able to?

  377. Shub Says:

    Dr Harvey
    One more thing.

    I will stop posting on this thread. I don’t want you to “waste your precious time”.

  378. willard Says:

    Presented with a copy of Wilhelm Reich’s new book **The Function of the Orgasm**, Freud remarked:

    > So thick?

    Stolen from http://www.spondee.com/

  379. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    Home Depot wants to produce beautiful wooden tables, armchairs and bedstands from pristine Amazonian mahagony. It seems mahagony exists just to be made into tables and chairs,

    Is this what you believe, or is it what you believe Jeff is saying? Either way you are wrong.

    If Home Depot doesn’t make mahogany furniture; tropical rain forest ecosystems will not lose functionality.

    Remove all the rain forests; atmospheric oxygen levels plunge below level to sustain human life (and most other fauna). Home Depot goes out of business.

    To be generous, it seems you exist just to confuse.

  380. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    You arent’wasting my ‘precious time’ if you can engage in a meaningful discussion. The questions I posed above are all at the heart of mainstream ecology. I’d be happy to discuss them with you or anyone else. But the bickering over pedantics is going nowhere.

  381. Bart Says:

    Why is it such a strange notion that a certain concept is deemed useful to practitioners in the field, whereas outsiders don’t see the value/meaning of it?

    Take radiative forcing and feedback. Perhaps these terms are more precisely defined than ecological function; I really don’t know and don’t want to argue either way. Whether a particular process on a particular timescale is considered a forcing or a feedback is of no value to Joe on the street and if Joe is in a philosophical mood he might even claim that these are just mental constructs that don’t really exist. Good for Joe. But to climate scientists these are useful constructs to use when trying to make sense of the climate.

    The question is not whether such concepts exist; the question is whether they are useful in trying to gain understanding. And it’s perfectly understandable that this usefulness is different for laypeople than for experts in the field.

    Plus what Willard said.

  382. J Bowers Says:

    Bart — “Why is it such a strange notion that a certain concept is deemed useful to practitioners in the field, whereas outsiders don’t see the value/meaning of it?”

    Science by audit? “He knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Also… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotology

  383. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Bart,

    You make some good points. Its problematic for me to have to explain important concepts – such as ecosystem services or functions – to the general public who are not exposed to them and thus see them as meaningless. As I have explained, these terms lie at the heart of systems ecology and have been the basis of countless studies and reports (the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment being an good example fo the latter).

    I do believe that the scientific community has attempted to convey the importance of functionality in ecology to the general public, and that many people do appreciate the value of nature with respect to discussions relating to functions and services. But ecology is an exceedingly complex science in that it covers an infinite number of scales and disciplines, and also because ecological systems function in decidedly non-linear ways. In other words, it is not easy to extrapolate cause-and-effect relationships in ecology; the loss or addition of a single component – say an invasive species or a keystone group of species – can have disproportional effects on the system that may take a long time to be realized.
    But to reiterate: there is nothing whatsover abstract about the term function in ecology. I have explained why numerous times in this thread and there is no need to rehash it.

  384. Bart Says:

    The paper by Barnosky et al., Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471 (2011), mentioned upthread, is being discussed by Dana at SkS (reproduced at Treehugger):

    The study’s authors find that over the past 1,000 years, the average extinction rate is more than ten times larger than the natural background extinction rate from the fossil record, and recently has reached levels almost 400 times faster than the average natural extinction rate.

    The authors also find that the extinctions over the past 500 years are happening at least as fast as the species extinctions which triggered the Big Five mass extinction events.

    From what I gather, the timescales over which previous mass extrinction events took place is uncertain, so the authors use “what-if” scenarios to explore the question of how the current extinction rate compares to previous levels:

    if all ‘threatened’ species became extinct within a century, and that rate then continued unabated, terrestrial amphibian, bird and mammal extinction would reach Big Five magnitudes in ~240 to 540 years

    The authors draw two main conclusions from these findings. The first is that although we’re clearly in dangerous territory in terms of extinction rates, we still have enough time to reverse course, although doing so will be a very difficult task. The second conclusion is that if we continue on our present course, we could be headed towards a mass extinction event within a timeframe of just a few centuries.

  385. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Bart
    Let me point out a few obvious things, which are usually neglected.

    [1] Firstly, about the personal attacks and innuendo.

    Would you have permitted the same thing from an pseudymous/anonymous blogger against a scientist? The answer is: no. What about stuff flying in the other direction? The answer apparently is: yes.

    Why is that?

    I am not particularly stricken or affected (due to the thick skin); but it is rather inescapable that this stuff *comes in the way of discussion*.

    More importantly, the reason for Harvey attacks what I wrote, is not particularly because of what I wrote, but because of my background, my presumed ‘political outlook’ and my internet anonymous status.

    You are very fond of pointing out that people form their views due to their political background and attack climate science due to it.

    Here is an instance with the exact opposite. Harvey voluntarily went out of the way to find out what he presumed to be my politics and background, then assumed that my criticism of his views solely arise due to that background, and filled up long posts addressing mainly those aspects.

    When I persisted to overlook them, he admitted that there was some substance to my questions about the Amazon.

    All this is fine, but did it not contribute to two things?
    1) an unfair and unnecessary attack on me
    2) a delay in the progression of discussion

    My conclusion: Just as people’s politics can color their scientific views, their perception of others’ scientific worth is colored by their own perception of the other person’s politics.

    [2] As for his explanations of what constitutes ‘ecologic function’, my conclusion is that (as I have explained several times now), an online forum conversation with hostiles is not the best way to address this. I’ll try to submit a paper or a letter at a more serious forum.

  386. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Here’s Shub’s first post on this thread:

    *Your ignorance is showing. Biologists have sequenced the genome of C.elegans, a small worm with a few cells in its body. Does that mean the insights gained are insubstantial just because “it is just a worm”.
    Your long posts are riven with personal attacks and unfounded arrogance. Your statements about the Amazon are exaggerated and speculative, for example, and their ecophilosophical underpinnings have gone virtually unchallenged. Please do not think that only those who are responding to you are watching on”.

    So Shub’s first post here was to attack me, nothing subtle about it. Forget the fact that his response was pedantic – my point being that the sequencing of genomes is in its infancy and that we still have little idea what the function of up-regulated genes is – I was quite take aback by his calling me ‘ ignorant’ and ‘arrogant’, sol I wanted to see what unique qualifications he possessed to question some of the points I raised that are close to my own field of expertise. So I went to his web site, which, suffice to say is, IMHO, scientifically
    about as deep as a shallow puddle, replete with links to laughingstock contrarian sites lacking any kind of scientific underpinning. So what else was I to conclude?

    Now he writes this:

    “More importantly, the reason for Harvey attacks what I wrote, is not particularly because of what I wrote, but because of my background, my presumed ‘political outlook’ and my internet anonymous status”.

    I will let the readers here decide why I respond to Shub like I do. There has been a lot of work done by many very respected scientists on the status of the Amazon – Shub not being amongst them. I immediately wondered how an self-confessed amateur could write with such assurance – as if he possessed some kjnd of innate wisdom that escaped the likes of actual experts working in the region for many years.

    Yesterday, as I had become fed up to the teeth with Shub’s pointless bickering, I challenged him to discuss his views in light of ecological theory – from Hubbell to McArthur to May to McCann. In other words, I called his bluff. I am well aware of all of the areas I wrote abolut yesterday because much of this was part of my undergraduate curriculum more than 20 years ago and since then I have attended many conferences, workshops and seminars where these concepts are center stage. I have met many scientists as well and have discussed these with them, so it is a part of my profession to be aware of the relevant studies and theories in ecology. My reason for bringing ecological theory in was to see how Shub would reply. My guess would be that he would do exactly as he has done here – scream foul and retreat to any old excuse to justify my criticism of his. let me be frank, simple ideas. So what feeble excuse does he dredge up? That my attacks were not scientific but political. Forget the fact that I have challenged Shub a dozen times or more to discuss the concept of ecosystem functioning within the framework of established theory, and he never responds. The simple reason is because he cannot. He has apparently not read any of the relevant literature, so to save face he accuses my criticisms of being politically motivated. Many climate change deniers do the same thing when the emptiness of their knowledge or arguments are exposed (I know that we can all name several good examples here). Heck, I could challenge Shub to discuss one area alone – May’s versus McCann’s debate as to whether diversity begets stability, and to bring in work like Boscampte’s interaction network webs and feedback loops, just for good measure. But you know what? Shub is not intellectually equipped to debate this with me. This is not meant as a smear, but just as the truth. Its taken me many years to accumulate the knowledge in my field, and if he were a medical doctor, I would expect him to become equally irate were I to wade in and question his expertise on the basis of my reading a couple of general books on medicine. Call it pride or whatever: I do have a good knowledge of my field of endeavor and to be called ‘ignorant’ by an utter layman will be repaid in kind.

    To top it all off, Shub now says that he will submit his ‘ ideas’, which have so far been non-existent within, to reiterate, the concepts I have already discussed, as a paper or letter to a ‘more serious forum’. Again, how many climate change deniers have said the same thing? What ‘forum’? To a peer-reviewed journal? I have discussed at length with a number of colleagues the kinds of exchanges I – and they as well for that matter – have had with contrarians in one form or other over the years. Certainly I can see why many scientists with even more experience than me shy away from web logs; its because they encounter all kinds of ‘armchair experts’ and will get attacked if their views differ. Look at Paul Ehrlich; Michael Mann; James Hansen; the late Stephen Schneider; and many others. Wade into the public arena and every Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks they have an excellent grasp of ecology, climate science etc. will bitterly denounce those with whom they disagree, irrespective as to their qualifications and pedigree. The main point I wish to make is that there is little disagreement amongst ecologists over the relevance and importance of the term ‘function’ as it applies to the myriad of intricate ways in which ecosystems evolve, assemble, and maintain themselves. This is exactly why I find people like Shub to be such a royal pain in the butt – they appear to think that there is some kind of ‘controversy’ over what I wrote when in fact, no such controversy exists.

    That is the MOST essential point here: there is NO serious debate over the importance of functionality in ecology. NONE. The debate, instead, is based entirely on the degree of functional redundancy evolutionarily inbuilt into the system. But to reiterate, there is NO debate over the importance of functions. And there is also NO debate over the importance of supporting services in maintaining systemic integrity and stability. Again, the debate here hinges around how much redundancy is necessary to maintain life-support functions over variable scales.

    So if Shub seriously thinks he will challenge the existing orthodoxy in ecology over the concept of ‘function’ he is very sadly mistaken. As have repeatedly said, he needs to read lot more, to attend workshops and conferences where these issues are discussed and debated. and to constructively engage with scientists. His opening salvo at me was a mistake on his part. Had he asked me why I had such strong views about biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, I would have explained why, as I have done repeatedly on this thread. Instead, I got a silly dressing down combined a some fatuous remark about others who do not respond here ‘watching on’.

  387. Shub Says:

    Dr Harvey
    I will not deny that I attacked ‘you’. Let me be more specific: I attacked some of your claims.

    These claims related to quantitative statements about climate- and human-related impacts on the Amazon (and the reason for study of C.elegans and Arabidopsis).

    In order to assess whether I am worthy enough of making such a bold attack on claims made by a prominent researcher, one needs only to check the following:

    1) whether my attack carried any substance?
    2) Do I have the appropriate background to support my claims?

    As far as the C.elegans question is concerned, let me tell you, your dismissive remarks were way off the mark and I have the direct scientific background to say that.

    As far as the Amazon thing is concerned, you did make a series of, what I perceived as, unfounded claims (and that is what they are), and I only reacted.

    For example: You make another claim above, that the recent drought in the Amazon was due to global warming. More accurately: you said ‘climate change’ is ‘involved’ in the recent Amazonian drought. What the heck is that? Is it a scientifically accurate thing to say? You tell me.

    I didn’t just walk in and attack you, with no reason. I responded to what you wrote.

    Yes, my words were harsh, and probably inappropriate – given that you were posting with your real name and I am not. But it was not directed at your person, only at your ideas. I think you have lots of rights to be arrogant and all deservedly so, you have accomplished enough. I am no one to be even saying this – I know.

    But I am saying it only to point out that my attack was only directed at that particular focus. I have made this point once earlier, and I want to take this opportunity to repeat it.

    The point is, these claims which I criticized, are all mixed in with other stuff in your substantive posts, as a part of a large picture you are painting. The overall picture may be ‘true’, but the picture derives support from these specific claims. That was the *reason* for my ‘attack’.

    Secondly, do I have the background to make these criticisms on the Amazon?
    Yes, I do. I have put in work in trying to gain the requisite background in understanding climate- and related literature in the Amazon. This will not be obvious upon reading my website, or just glancing at how it looks.

    Have I not offered a detailed account of my own reasoning? Let me provide it once more.

    [1] The way quantitative claims in the Amazon and the way their link to global warming is derived, pretty much follows the same pattern, as has occurred in this thread.

    Initially, an area estimate is derived – either from modeling or from expert opinion. – indicating some damage to affect the entire Amazon. Properly considered, this estimate is meaningful, *only given the complete suite of assumptions*, which go into deriving the estimate. Then, climate change is shown to be capable of potentially causing, usually by computer modeling, the worst/highest/most severe of causal factor/s. Thirdly, the above two things are clubbed together to derive high area estimates of forest ‘vulnerability’.

    The above method – derivation of results by daisy-chaining and stacking of assumptions – implies naturally, that conclusions so arrived are heavily tied down by qualifiers, and therefore weak.

    [2] However, successive transmissions of such results happen in press releases, interviews or blog posts. At each step, the crucial context, the qualifying assumptions and conditions which constrain and make such conclusions meaningful are stripped away successively. This effectively de-contextualizes the scientific claim. The causal link between ‘climate change’ and the proposed ‘vulnerability’ becomes super-strong, at this stage.

    What is left is a percent figure, the words ‘climate change’ and Amazon.

    Did something like this not happen in your claims above?

    Do you believe, since you are an expert in ecology, whatever you said should just be accepted for what it is? You say above that you hesitate to criticize any other scientific discipline (and make it as if I offered some critique of the entire field of ecology – I am familiar with that trick, sir). What do you think your comments about molecular biology are? At what point did I jump into the thread?

    While you are too busy blowing steam about ‘deniers’ and ‘contrarians’, I have now twice offered to you a summary criticism of a certain group of studies conducted, regarding the Amazon, arrive at their conclusions.

    How can you continue saying ‘contrarians don’t say anything specific’, ‘they just disappear’, ‘that is why scientists are scared’ etc?

    When I said I will submit my ideas in a more serious forum, that specifically refers to what I have to say about ‘ecologic function’. That is what I will do. I know what I said, and I am confident of finding support in the ecology literature and beyond to support my viewpoint.

    In summary: you were ticked off by my strong words. But they were only directed at ‘Harvey’ the blog commenter at ‘Bart’s blog’, not Jeff Harvey, the ecology scientist. In turn, I was ticked off my some of your Amazon and molecular biology claims. I don’t disagree with everything you said, or all of ecology, or everything that ecologists have to say. Secondly, I have a joust-and-ride view of interdisciplinary interactions; others take a more deferential approach. Both have their place – that is my view.

  388. adelady Says:

    I hadn’t thought of that aspect before. Thanks for raising that medical point, Dr Harvey. The sinking feeling doctors get when patient after patient presents them with “research” into some condition they think they have, or some treatment that’s been abandoned years ago or not quite invented yet.

    A very good parallel to the climate (or similar) scientist dealing with radiative transfer or ocean acidification or, as here, ecology.

  389. Øystein Says:

    Jeff ID is sort of responsible for this thread. He was last seen on February 22, saying: “Again, really no time to defend myself, although Harvey’s comments are far to altruistic and definite to be ‘scientific’. It is too bad really but I can’t take on every activist in the same life

    I will come back in the next few days but more important things today. Thanks for the opportunity Bart, and I’m sorry to let you down right now. You wouldn’t even believe what I’m trying to do”

    I’d appreciate it if he would come back, and at the very least, try to engage in the discussion.

  390. Bart Says:

    Oystein,

    Everyone participates in these sort of discussions out of their free will, and I wouldn’t want to put a condition on commenting that one has to come back to continue.

  391. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    You still do not get it. My remark about the science of molecular biology being in its infancy is correct. You may not realize it bu many of my colleagues are molecular biologists, and we discuss these kinds of issues. Most molecular biologists, including a few who commented on this thread would agree with me that the field is still very young. Moreover, C. elegans is an innocuous species of nematode. Where are the sequences of genomes for elephants, leopards, basking sharks, wolverines, polar bears, sequioa trees, harpy eagles, and millions of other species? Yet since we have thus far sequenced an infintisimally small number of genomes, and we do not yet know the function of genes that are up or down regulated, then my point was to say that to claim that genomics is the solution to our destruction of biodiversity is completely misplaced. The field of genetic manipulation is also exceedingly unrefined. Using gene guns to balst donor DNA into the genomes of recipient organisms – where it may end up anywhere – is proof positive of this. This eventually led to the discussion on ecological services and functions, again where you waded in with comments that were simplisitic and irrelevant.

    With respect to the Amazon, let’s be clear here: we have no idea how much forest can be lost before we reach and pass tipping pointe beyond which the system will collapse and switch to an alternate state. How much forest loss in this species-rich biome would lead to a collapse? We do not know. Rondonia has pretty much been cleared of it primary forests, and more is lost each year. As it is, the destruction of tropical forests in Aamzonia represent another example of a single, blind experiment with potentially catastrophic outcomes. Just because we do not know enough about the dynamics of the forest and when tipping points will be reached does in no way justify its continued destruction. By the time the ‘data are all in’ it may well be too late. In my field of research, some of the experiments I do are based on tolerance/resistance thresholds in plants in response to herbivory. Whereas some species suffer no reduction is fitness (e.g. seed production) even when they lose 50% or more of their biomass to herbivores, other plants that are much less tolerant suffer fitness reductions even under minor herbivore damage (e.g. < 10%). So we cannot extrapolate general patterns on the basis of a process that is association-specific. I cautioned against underestimating the improtance of losing even just 10-15% of the Amazon as a result of direct deforestation on this basis. And we now know as a result of several studies in major journals that climate cahnge poses an additional threat to the Amazon forests. This is where you and I differ. You claim to possess expertise/knowedge/wisdom in this area but have you published anything in the peer-reviewed literature on it? NO! My views reflect the prevailing wisdom in the field on the basis of the existing peer-reviewed literature. Just as I said that I defer to the opinions of the vast majority of people doing the research in climate science who are in broad agreement that humasn are forcing climate, I also defer to the opinions of the vast majoruty of forest and systems ecologists who agree that a combined set of factors – including climate change and direct deforestation – pose a great threat to the Amazon and its biodiversity. Until you can point to studies in rigid journals that digress from this view, then I will stick with the prevailing wisdom.

  392. Øystein Says:

    Bart,

    I know that, and I’m sorry my post came across as me wanting to put conditions on commenting.

    My point was simply that Jeff ID said he’d be back, and I think it would be for the best if he did.. before the thread dies. Just a hope, no conditions

  393. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Øystein,

    Please tell me what pearls of wisdom Jeff Id will add here? In another thread he made the quite scientifically outrageous and unfounded claim that climate warming will benefit biodiversity. The statement has so many caveats and contexts that I do not know where to begin dismantling it. For sure you’d be hard pressed to find more than a few qualified ecologists making such an absurd statement. I earlier quoted eminent ecologist Michael Soule in his introduction to the book, ‘Global Warming and Biological Diversity’ (1992), in which he explained exactly why warming at current rates poses a profound threat to biodiversity. The book is almost 20 years old now but it contains 26 quite outstanding chapters by a wide range of experts in population, systems and paleoecology, all of whom expressed profound concern at the prospect of a warming world for the planet’s biota. Since the book was published, thousands of articles have been published in the peer-reviewed literature revealing that the concerns alluded to in the book are indeed founded.

    My guess is that Jeff Id has never read the book, does not attend the conferences and workshops where this issues is the prominent theme, and does not read much of the primary literature. If he can prove me wrong, I’d be happy to oblige. But don’t hold your breath. Essentially, virtually all of those claming the climate warming is a good thing by and large for the planet’s biodiversity are either pundits or bloggers who have little relevant scientific background. I confronted several similar people on Tim Lambert’s web site (Deltoid) whio claimed, quite outrageously, that increasing atmsopheric C02 concentrations were a boon to plant life and thus to biodiversity. Of course, given all of the ecophysiological and trophic complexities involved, this is nonsense, and again very few scientists working in relevant fields would make such claims. But nothing holds back the pundits and bloggers.

  394. Øystein Says:

    Jeff H,

    I’m not at all certain that Jeff ID will add any wisdom.

    My problem with his absence is that he started this discussion with his claims, and then left the premises. I’d like to take him seriously (generally), which means I’d like him to either back up his claims or retract them. What he’s done here so far feels more like a cop-out.

  395. MapleLeaf Says:

    Dr. Harvey,

    What are your thoughts on the new paper by Barnosky et al. (2011)?

    Oystein– I think it is clear at this point that Condon has copped out.

  396. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Harvey,
    You don’t get it either.

    Your opinion, as an ecologist, is that molecular biology is in ‘infant stage’. But the science of ecology is at an advanced stage of adulthood.

    And I should defer to this opinion because, … you are a accomplished ecologist?

    You are confusing technical advancements in a field with conceptual advancement.

    Let us look at this example of sloppiness now: You say above:

    He has apparently not read any of the relevant literature, so to save face he accuses my criticisms of being politically motivated. Many climate change deniers do the same thing when the emptiness of their knowledge or arguments are exposed…

    Here we are, with a summary of my understanding of an area of research in the Amazon, I derived from reading the literature. I showed an example of that in a paper you cited yourself – Le Page et al 2010. If you’d allow me, I would further substantiate how my summary is illustrated by this paper.

    On the other hand, what sentence from this paper’s abstract did you pick to demonstrate Amazonian vulnerability, shall we take a closer look?

    The entire region is very sensitive to a possible drying with climate change; a reduction in dry-season precipitation of 200 mm/year would reduce the climate constraint on deforestation fires from 58% to only 24% of the forest.

    You tell me: the paper does what it does ( described in [1]), you did what you did (described in [2]). Is this not the exact sequence I described?

    An impression is created that the Amazon is ‘vulnerable’ to this or that ‘threat’. This may be true. But if such impressions are derived and conveyed as described above, they do not add substance to this truth.

    In the end, if I make specific criticisms and arguments, you defer to ‘authority’, ‘publication record’, ‘expertise’, ‘wisdom of the peer-reviewed literature’, ‘vast majority of people doing research’.

    What was it again you say: that ‘current rate of warming’ was perceived to be unprecedented in 1992 by many ecologists? I wonder on what basis they came to this conclusion.

    Furthermore, I don’t want to “save face” by pointing out that your criticisms were politically motivated. Firstly, they *are* “politically motivated”. Secondly, I said such tactics from your side only delay meaningful discussion; I am not bothered by any other aspect. Thirdly, I pointed out this aspect to Bart. I did not, and I do not talk about it to you.

    With you, all I did was politely request you to leave out my ‘politics’ – which you assumed on your own accord – out of any discussion. Feel free to keep bringing up my ‘politics’ – they discredit your points and not mine.

    Regards

  397. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    One is often judged the company one keeps. Your web site says a lot about you. If you were interested in serious scientific discourse you would not recommend Morano’s site as a good link, for example. To be honest, I don’t give a damn what your political leanings are – but the fact remains that there is a solid correlation amongst people on the far end of the political right to be climate change deniers. I am sure that you are aware of this. Let’s be honest – Inhofe, Barton and other right wing Republicans are pushing their own political agendas, as are the Competitive Enterprise institute, the American Enterprise Institute, The Reason Foundation, The George C. Marshall Institute and dozens of other corporate funded think tanks that have a vested interest in denial. But my point remains – you claim to want to engage in serious scientific discourse whereas IMO your web site links to some pretty dubious sites. If you want to be taken seriously, drop the comedy routine and show us here that you are interested in real science and not the frivolous kind.

    The 1992 book I referred to reveals that climate change was perceived as being of concern quite some time ago. But you clearly know this – concern over the potential impacts of pumping more and more C02 into the atmosphere was realized by scientists like Revelle and Keeling in the 1950s, as well as by the National Academy of Sciences in the 1960s. Naomi Oreskes has done an outstanding job of disproving the myth that concern over warming is a recent phenomenon. Besides, trust you to criticize a scientific text without even having read any of it.

    With respect to the Amazon, I stand by what I said. Until we know a lot more about tipping points, its continued destruction is the sprint of folly. There is nothing exceptional is the abstract you quoted above. The bottom line is that scientists, by the nature of our profession, are cautious. We work on the basis of probabilities. For their part, the climate change denialists and their kin in the anti-environmental movement appear to exhibit no doubts whatsoever about the science they routinely mangle. I would agree that ‘their side’ are winning the public debate, but it should be easy to see why. Its got nothing to do with ‘science’. The general public will usually side with the highly confident denialist over the cautious scientist. As I said earlier, I debated two people over at Deltoid who argued with complete confidence that increasing atmospheric concentrations of C02 would (1) reduce hunger and (2) benefit biodiversity. Neither of the two had any scientific pedigree, but they both wrote as if the issue was a ‘slam-dunk’. As a cautious scientist, I argued that there were a huge number of unknowns in this area and that the empirical evidence – what there was of it – certainly did nothing to support their confident claims. Heck, how can we predict the systemic responses of biomes when the effects are likely to be association-specific? Again, its nothing less than a single, non-repeatable experiment on complex adaptive systems with any number of potential outcomes. For saying this I was criticized heavily by these two ‘pundits’.

    Oh, and by the way, I never said that ecology was ‘ at an advanced state of adulthood’. What an asinine remark. If you’d bothered to digest anything I have said, you would realize that I express profound concern over the continued human assault of ecosystems across the biosphere on the basis of all of the unknowns. For instance, our understanding of the connection of different scales in ecology is exceedingly poor, as well as the myriad of factors that mediate the evolution, assembly and functioning of ecosystems. I was dismayed when Harry made silly remarks about gene banks preserving biodiversity in an apparent attempt to downplay the significance of losing genetically distinct populations and species.

    And to reiterate, the science molecular biology IS very much in its infancy. I do not need to retract or revise that opinion because it is completely and utterly true. My partner is a biologist who has done molecular research and she is even more adamant about this point than I am! My concern is that many molecular biologists cannot tell a mole cricket from a giraffe, and dispense with the importance of organismal biology. This is as sad as it is lamentable. Certainly I collaborate with molecular biologists in my plant-insect research, and I believe that the two different fields have a lot to offer one another. Hence why I will visit Harry’s lab in a week’s time to discuss ways in which our respective departments can collaborate to develop a better understanding of the biology of multitrophic interactions.

  398. sidd Says:

    Dr. Harvey writes:

    “I would agree that ‘their side’ are winning the public debate, …”

    No sir, I would not. It is principally within a fraction of the population of the USA that there is any uncertainty on this matter. The international media paint a far different picture than is to be found in US media. International opinion polls are wildly divergent from those within the USA.

    sidd

  399. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Sidd,

    I hope that you are correct, but I have my doubts, even living over here in Europe. Every time George Monbiot writes an article in the Guardian about the significance of warming the comments section is flooded with vitriolic comments from deniers. I know this is hardly scientific but it gives some idea of the noise coming from their side.

  400. Bernard J. Says:

    Shrub Niggurath said:

    The original issue was whether such a thing as ‘ecological function’ even existed. It was not about definitions, per se.

    If you look closely, ‘function’ disappears. Ecosystems/systems ‘function’ at all levels of complexity and irrespective of how densely populated they are by their different constituent elements. There can be no dysfunctional ecosystems.

    Wow. Just wow…

    I’ve missed the last few weeks of the ecological expertise that has been coming from the science denialists, and I can’t say that I have suffered from the missing if this is the standard of the argument.

    Shub Niggurath, you and Harry seem to want examples of failing ecosystem function. They are all around you if you care to look.

    Consider the consequences to fisheries ecosystems where high-trophic species such as cod are removed: major shifts in species structure occur that are likely to last hundreds or thousands of years, if not forever. These shifts affect the whole ecosystem, and humans as well – just ask a North Atlantic cod fisherman.

    Consider what happens to Amazonian lateritic soils when the rainforest is razed and burned.

    Consider what happens to the North-east Pacific kelp beds when one species, the sea-otter, is removed in order to avail fashion-conscious ladies the privilege of draping the hides of these mammals around their necks.

    Consider what happens to any herbivore-dominated ecosystem when their carnivore predators are hunted, trapped,or otherwise removed.

    Consider Banksia prionotes.

    Consider the gizzards of dodos and cassowary.

    Consider elephants and beaver and prairie dogs.

    Consider enrolling in a first year undergraduate course in ecology, where unsubtle examples such as those I’ve just given are all discussed at length, along with their ecosystem function implications.

    Shub Niggurath states:

    My view is that there is nothing called ‘ecological function’. Consequently, there is nothing called ‘ecosystem serivce’. Consequently, there is no ‘subsidy’.

    Fine, you’re entitled to your view. As Luminous Beauty and others have already requested of you though, can you explain where your seafood comes from, or the topsoil that grows your fruit and vegetables, or the very oxygen that you breathe? Can you dismiss with hard data the significance that evapotranspiration has on producing rainfall in particular areas, and that vegetation has on filtering the subsequent run-off? Can you refute the importance that unicellular and multicellular coprophages have with respect to processing the copious amounts of waste produced by heterotrophs?

    Without a rebuttal of all the apparent practical functions that ecosystems provide, your view will remain just a view, and an incorrect one at that.

    You might attempt to dissolve the concept of ecological function with a teleological/dysteleological excursion into philosophical semantics, but the fact remains that ecosystems perform objectively identifiable functions that benefit the species that live within them: this is implicit in the very definition of an ecosystem.

    Humans are a species, and we live within ecosystems, whether our arrogance can accept this fact or not. We rely on the successful functioning of these ecosystems, and even in cases where there is no direct reliance by us on particular ecosystem functions, there is usually no rationally justifiable reason for destroying them. There is certainly no reason to do so just because one or two contrarian people without any education, training, or experience in the field of ecology suddenly decide that there is no such thing as an ‘ecological function’.

    Meanwhile, as Bart has already pointed out, Barnosky et al have a review in Last week’s issue of Nature, titled “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?“. Some further extracts to expand on Bart’s:

    A second hypothetical approach asks how many more years it would take for current extinction rates to produce species losses equivalent to Big Five magnitudes. The answer is that if all ‘threatened’ species became extinct within a century, and that rate then continued unabated, terrestrial amphibian, bird and mammal extinction would reach Big Five magnitudes in ,240 to 540 years (241.7 years for amphibians, 536.6 years for birds, 334.4 years for mammals). Reptiles have so few of their species assessed that they are not included in this calculation. If extinction were limited to ‘critically endangered’ species over the next century and those extinction rates continued, the time until 75% of species were lost per group would be 890 years for amphibians, 2,265 years for birds and 1,519 years for mammals. For scenarios that project extinction of ‘threatened’ or ‘critically endangered’ species over 500 years instead of a century, mass extinction magnitudes would be reached in about 1,200 to 2,690 years for the ‘threatened’ scenario (1,209 years for amphibians, 2,683 years for birds and 1,672 years for mammals) or,4,450 to 11,330 years for the ‘critically endangered’ scenario (4,452 years for amphibians, 11,326 years for birds and 7,593 years for mammals).

    This emphasizes that current extinction rates are higher than those that caused Big Five extinctions in geological time; they could be severe enough to carry extinction magnitudes to the Big Five benchmark in as little as three centuries. It also highlights areas for much-needed future research. Among major unknowns are (1) whether ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ and ‘vulnerable’ species will go extinct, (2) whether the current rates we used in our calculations will continue, increase or decrease; and (3) how reliably extinction rates in well-studied taxa can be extrapolated to other kinds of species in other places.

    [Deletia]

    Little explored is whether current extinction rates within a clade fall outside expectations when considered in the context of long-term diversity dynamics. For example, analyses of cetacean (whales and dolphins) extinction and origination rates illustrate that within-clade diversity has been declining for the last 5.3 million years, and that that decline is nested within an even longer-term decline that began some 14 million years ago. Yet, within that context, even if ‘threatened’ genera lasted as long as 100,000 years before going extinct, the clade would still experience an extinction rate that is an order of magnitude higher than anything it has experienced during its evolutionary history.

    [Deletia]

    Hypotheses to explain the general phenomenon of mass extinctions have emphasized synergies between unusual events. Common features of the Big Five (Table 1) suggest that key synergies may involve unusual climate dynamics, atmospheric composition and abnormally high-intensity ecological stressors that negatively affect many different lineages. This does not imply that random accidents like a Cretaceous asteroid impact would not cause devastating extinction on their own, only that extinction magnitude would be lower if synergistic stressors had not already ‘primed the pump’ of extinction.

    More rigorously formulating and testing synergy hypotheses may be especially important in assessing sixth mass extinction potential, because once again the global stage is set for unusual interactions. Existing ecosystems are the legacy of a biotic turnover initiated by the onset of glacial–interglacial cycles that began ~2.6 million years ago, and evolved primarily in the absence of Homo sapiens. Today, rapidly changing atmospheric conditions and warming above typical interglacial temperatures as CO2 levels continue to rise, habitat fragmentation, pollution, overfishing and overhunting, invasive species and pathogens (like chytrid fungus), and expanding human biomass are all more extreme ecological stressors than most living species have previously experienced. Without concerted mitigation efforts, such stressors will accelerate in the future and thus intensify extinction, especially given the feedbacks between individual stressors.

    The same issue has several articles on Antarctic climatology, but they are not pertinent to this thread.

  401. Shub Says:

    Dear Bernard
    Let me summarize your argument for you: Shub Niggurath claims that there is no “ecologic function”. Wow. I counter it by saying that there is ecologic function” (and I strengthen my point by a liberal sprinkling of insults)

    My point is not that these processes you list are not taking place in the real world. It is to say that they are not functions. To function is to perform a role, to fulfill a need, to play out one’s part etc.

    Why would I deny that these things you mention above are taking place? My question is, how come you guys called it ‘function’? How did that happen? What was the thinking process there? I believe it is important to ask this question because ‘newer’ ecologic concepts (new as in, gaining more widespread currency in recent years). like ‘ecosystem service’ seem in turn, to depend on the same thinking process.

    My view is that one ought not underestimate or overestimate the role of philosophy in science.

  402. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Bernard,

    Fantastic post, as always. We have missed you.

    Shub: function pertains to the way ecosystems maintain themselves. As I have said before, your interpretation of function is misguided – species and ecologically similar guilds do perform roles in nature, even if these roles are unwittingly performed. If you’d read any of the literature I suggested, you’d understand what ecologists mean by function. But for some reason you refuse to go beyond internet thread like this – and that is your problem.

  403. Bernard J. Says:

    My view is that one ought not underestimate or overestimate the role of philosophy in science.

    Myview is that one ought not misperceive the need for semantic sophistry in science.

    ‘Greenhouse effect’, ‘ecosystem function’, ‘model’, ‘theories’ and ‘laws’, ‘centrifugal’/’centripetal’ force… all such terms have their semantic Quixotes. However, the vast majority of the scientific community knows what they mean when using such terms, and your pedantry makes not a whit of difference in this instance.

    Congratulations though at your Quixotesque tilting at windmills – or should that be wordmills?

    My point is not that these processes you list are not taking place in the real world.

    Oh, really? Do tell, then, exactly where it is that they are taking place.

    It is to say that they are not functions.

    Only according to the Nigggurath (un)definition of ‘function’.

    In the real world, however, dictionaries are replete with many different and often subtle permutations of polysemetic meanings. You might not understand what ecologists mean when they speak of ecological functions, but believe me when I say that the profession itself does, as do most intelligent lay people participating in the use of such concepts.

    And Shub Niggurath, I am very curious about my “liberal sprinkling of insults”. As you are, apparently, a semasiological lexicologist of some considerable standing, perhaps you might indulge us in a detailed deconstruction of these obloquies, and specifically why they do not qualify as other types of elements in discourse, instead of as your perception of them as simple insults.

  404. Shub Niggurath Says:

    We are getting somewhere Dr Harvey.

    Take the mammalian kidney, for example. More than dozen different cell types, – guided by the hand of mammalian evolution, written in the language of its genomic DNA – come together in a certain way to form the organ.

    The genome carries the instructions to make this happen – there is a physical entity that carries the ‘kidney plan’, but does that mean is there an intention to do so? My answer would be an emphatic no. Would you agree?

    Why then would the same principle, the same perspective not apply to genomically unbound distinct organisms, existing together – forming ‘communities’? ‘Function’ *emerges* – it is ‘unwitting’, it just happens, and it is accidental. Communality produces ‘function’, consequently every communality will harbor different ‘functions’.

    When we correctly identify function to be emergent property, and acknowledge its ‘unwitting’ nature, we have already jettisoned some of the baggage that goes with the traditional meaning of the word ‘function’. We have moved away.

    Since no ecosystem has no true boundary, logically the whole earth becomes a single organism. This organism, for all purposes of discussion, has no beginning or end. It has different states and it transitions from one state to another. No state is ‘ideal’ or ‘optimal’ compared to another. ‘Functions’ once more, are mere properties of any given state.

    Bernard,
    As scientists, the community uses terms, these become labels and everything can be hunky-dory for them. This precludes any deeper examination or a re-examination of these concepts forever?

    Most professional scientists and participating lay people – by which I assume you refer to the learned audience at the ‘science’ website Deltiod – may use ‘function’ unthinkingly, attributing intent, role and justification to species and members in ecologies. I see no reason to toe the orthodoxy. As you lay out yourself – words have many meanings, meanings influence further thought and lay out traps for us. We need to be careful.

  405. willard Says:

    > We need to be careful.

    Indeed. For instance, it’s important to watch out for the mistake of assuming that function entails intention.

    From a previously quoted resource:

    > Accounts of biological function which refer to natural selection typically have the form that a trait’s function or functions causally explain the existence or maintenance of that trait in a given population via the mechanism of natural selection. Three components of this view can be usefully separated:

    1. Functional claims in biology are intended to explain the existence or maintenance of a trait in a given population;

    2. Biological functions are causally relevant to the existence or maintenance of traits via the mechanism of natural selection;

    3. Functional claims in biology are fully grounded in natural selection and are not derivative of psychological uses of notions such as design, intention, and purpose.

    ***

    A more general way to express is this definition of function (Wright, 1979):

    The function of X is Z iff:

    (i) Z is a consequence (result) of X’s being there,
    (ii) X is there because it does (results in) Z.

    http://www.d.umn.edu/~dcole/mirror.txt

    If this sort of analysis is good for biology, I see no reason why it would not be for ecology.

    There is nothing there that amounts to say that biological creatures have intrinsic or proper functions. This related concept of proper function might be what Shub has in mind.

    Too bad that Alvin Plantinga is not an ecologist, for then Shub would have a good case.

  406. Jeff Harvey Says:

    Shub,

    I agree that we should be civil, and I apologize for many of my earlier comments.

    A good place to start would be here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem_ecology

    The process of function lies at the hear of research on systems ecology. It may sound esoteric, but it is based on sound, empirical research. We can start from the WIKI entry and work from there.

    Regards,

    Jeff

  407. Bart Says:

    Shub asks: “My question is, how come you guys called it ‘function’?”

    That’s what they call in in the profession. What’s this argument about? Semantics? Definitions?

  408. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    My view is that one ought not underestimate [n]or overestimate the role of philosophy in science.

    Neither should one underestimate nor overestimate the role of science in philosophy.

    The genome carries the instructions to make this happen – there is a physical entity that carries the ‘kidney plan’, but does that mean is there an intention to do so? My answer would be an emphatic no. Would you agree?

    The function of a kidney, for the particular organism that has kidneys, is not, as you suggested earlier, to produce urine. It’s function is to filter toxins, particularly lactic acid, from the bloodstream. Should the kidneys fail to perform this function, i.e., become dysfunctional, that particular organism will die. Nothing intentional about it; functionality is an existential necessity.

    OTOH, on an ecological level, the production of urine, whether by kidneys or dermal excretion for amphibians and reptiles or across cell walls for micro-fauna produces a nitrogen and mineral rich source of nutrition for plants, which in turn provide food for fauna, allowing the ecosystem to function sustainably. Again, this is not intentional. It is merely that the system would fail to function, i.e., become dysfunctional, if the nutrient cycle were to break down.

    Most professional scientists and participating lay people – by which I assume you refer to the learned audience at the ‘science’ website Deltiod – may use ‘function’ unthinkingly, attributing intent, role and justification to species and members in ecologies.

    To say this is a baseless conjecture does disservice to baseless conjectures everywhere and throughout history. There is no evidence you provide, nor can possibly provide, that this wild and derogatory hand-waving assertion ‘may’ be true. On the contrary, you have been repeatedly assured this is not the case. It does not follow. It is a non sequitur. It is nonsense. It is mindless jibber-jabber. To persist in making such an association after having been repeatedly shown it to be incorrect is intentional stupidity. It is only you attempting to attribute ‘intention’ as a necessary corollary meaning of ‘function’ in a context where it does not apply. To displace your own persistent mental dysfunction upon those trying to correct your misunderstanding is a particularly abusive form of psychological projection. It is the very definition of DARVO. It is profound cognitive dissonance.

    I hope you aren’t too emotionally aggrieved by this assessment. It is meant as constructive criticism, not as an insult. Get therapy, please.

  409. Bernard J. Says:

    Since no ecosystem has no true boundary, logically the whole earth becomes a single organism. This organism, for all purposes of discussion, has no beginning or end. It has different states and it transitions from one state to another. No state is ‘ideal’ or ‘optimal’ compared to another. ‘Functions’ once more, are mere properties of any given state.

    So, what you’re saying Shub Niggurath, is that you are a proponent of omnitemporal nihilistic Gaian communism, and therefore you cannot believe in the concept of ecological function.

    If that’s your philosphical drum, you’re quite welcome to bang it. Don’t expect anyone else besides Harry to listen to you though. The rest of us are getting on with the job of science.

  410. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Bernard, you guys are funny. You perceive ‘functions’ and ‘flows’ in ecosystems from a distance that is required for that perception, but yet refuse to confront the other logical outcomes that arise from adopting that perspective.

    The anthropomorphism of the concept ‘function’ and its cousin ‘value’ are what that keep you from staring at the ‘omnitemporal nihilistic Gaian communism’ of any eco-consciousness.

    Who is the ecologist/s around here?

  411. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    The anthropomorphism of the concept ‘function’ and its cousin ‘value’ …

    You keep making this assertion, but provide no reasoning to substantiate it. It isn’t a logical outcome because there is no functioning logic by which to evaluate it.

    Your mouth is writing checks your brain can’t cash. That isn’t healthy.

  412. Bernard J. Says:

    Bart, I am truly sorry that your thread has been hijacked by semanitic navel gazers and by topically-uneducated science deniers.

    However, a review of the substantive material offered here demonstrates that:

    1) current global extinction is proceeding at a pace at least as fast as any of the previously identified Great Extinction events in geological history, and certainly at a rate orders of magnitude above background

    2) humans are largely, if not entirely, responsible for the demonstrable increase in current species extinction over the background rate

    3) climate change will exacerbate extinction occurring from other causes, and has the potential in the coming decades and centuries to surpass in magnitiude all of the other anthropogenic causes of extinction

    4) humans are dependent upon a sufficient biodiversity and upon integrity of global ecosystems for their survival, and therefore it is in our species’ own selfish interest to ensure that we address the biodiversity (and the other ecological) consequences of extinction, and of the impacts of climate change upon these phenomena

    5) nothing that the deniers of climatological and ecological science have said on this thread in any way changes the import of the first four points.

  413. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Beauty
    The problem I am posing is an old, familar one – in philosophy and biology. Everyone has to their own hard work to come to some kind of a conclusion.

    I cannot do anyone else work, but unfortunately enough I did not keep my quiet when others claimed that the question of ‘function’ was completely problem-free and should be obvious even to an imbecile.

    Let me give you an example: – your own.

    Do organisms produce urine to provide nitrogenous nutrients to other creatures? Is that their ‘function’?

    Willard,
    Your evolutionary justification of the concept of function hits a dead-end, and is partly a non-answer. Once again, as Laughlin points out, evolution has become a dead-end theory that pops up to ‘explain’ everything and anything, especially when used at junctures where we don’t have the answer (or cannot come up with an answer).

  414. willard Says:

    Shub,

    This was not “an evolutionary justification of the concept of function.” Nor was it “mine.” But I’d be interested by your definition of justification.

    And when you say:

    > May your [Bernard J's] hubris continue its blockade on your brain.

    it would be interesting to know what exactly is hubris, what is blockade, and more importantly what is a hubris blockade.

    Just to see how escape your own “anthropomorphism” trick.

    A trick, I might add, that is as old as Protatogoras.

  415. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Biological functions are causally relevant to the existence or maintenance of traits via the mechanism of natural selection

    I was referring to the above.

    “You” quoted it here.

  416. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Willard,
    I am not alone when I called ‘function’ an anthropomorphic concept.

    Certainly I was not the first one to see ‘function’ to be a hairy issue – in the literature. Oh how confident some were, and are, in declaring everything crystal-clear and settled.

  417. Sou Says:

    The latter part of this thread provides a useful analogy of the term ‘function’ as used in biology and ecology. Shub’s posts appear on the face of it pointless, however they have elicited responses that inform the reader about ecology and biology.

    In that respect there are analogies with the functions of inanimate and animate matter that can be ascertained by the response of other life forms.

  418. willard Says:

    Shub Niggurath, on March 13, 2011 at 07:16:

    > Oh how confident some were, and are, in declaring everything crystal-clear and settled.

    Here is my first comment on that topic, March 8, 2011 at 04:24:

    > For what it’s worth, the concept of function leads to a philosophical quagmire [...]

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/biodiversity-extinction-climate-change/#comment-11983

    Here is my second comment on that topic, March 8, 2011 at 04:24:

    > Asking someone to define a scientific concept known to be nebulous is asking for trouble. [...] Nebulous concepts are oftentimes more useful than absurd criteria.

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/biodiversity-extinction-climate-change/#comment-11986

    Let the reader judge by herself the utility function of Shub’s comment above.

    ***

    Here is the quote Shub Niggurath has decided to pick:

    > Biological functions are causally relevant to the existence or maintenance of traits via the mechanism of natural selection.

    That this amounts to an “evolutionary justification” of the concept of function is yet to be seen, let alone explained with clearer concepts than obscure one of ecological function. The concept of justification also leads to a deeper philosophical quagmire than the concept of function.

    Meanwhile, let the reader judge by herself surmise a rhetorical function of Shub’s comments in the conceptual analysis presented on this very thread.

    ***

    Let’s hope that the Laughlin cited by Shub Niggurath is not Charles Laughlin:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogenetic_structuralism

    for the F-word is appearing more than once. For instance:

    > [C]onsciousness is as much the function of the brain as digestion is the function of the stomach and grasping the function of the hand.

    Nothing is being said about hubris blockade there.

    ***

    Perhaps it is Robert B. Laughlin, known to have said:

    > The Earth will heal itself.

    Source: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/what-the-earth-knows/

    ***

    We have yet to find something said by Robert Laughlin related to the concept of ecological function. But a somewhat relevant quote for our discussion can be this one:

    > Much of present-day biological knowledge is ideological. A key symptom of ideological thinking is the explanation that has no implications and cannot be tested. I call such logical dead ends antitheories because they have exactly the opposite effect of real theories: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it. Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to **function** more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause!

    Let’s wonder what Laughlin means by the word “function” we emphasized.

    ***

    Finally, let us note that we found this quote on William Dembsky’s website:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/laughlin-on-evolution-by-natural-selection/

    A redoubtable debater, or so I heard.

  419. Bernard J. Says:

    Shub Niggurath, 21 February 2011 at 15:23:

    Your long posts are riven with personal attacks and unfounded arrogance.

    Shub Niggurath, 24 February 2011 at 19:42:

    Feel free to indulge in personal attacks, that is why my pseudonym is there – it brings out the ‘best’ in those who attack.

    Shub Niggurath, 9 March 2011 at 21:34:

    Bart

    Let me point out a few obvious things, which are usually neglected.

    [1] Firstly, about the personal attacks and innuendo.

    Would you have permitted the same thing from an pseudymous/anonymous blogger against a scientist? The answer is: no. What about stuff flying in the other direction? The answer apparently is: yes.

    Why is that?

    I am not particularly stricken or affected (due to the thick skin); but it is rather inescapable that this stuff *comes in the way of discussion*.

    [Deletia]

    All this is fine, but did it not contribute to two things?

    1) an unfair and unnecessary attack on me…

    Shub Niggurath, 13 March 2011 at 06:35:

    Bernard,
    You are an educated idiot, who is beyond any reach. May your hubris continue its blockade on your brain.

    [Offending comment deleted. BV]

  420. Bernard J. Says:

    Shub Niggurath.

    Your problem (besides thinner-than-perceived skin and not insignificant hypocrisy) is that you are demonstrating no understanding of the concept of a polyseme (amongst many other concepts…).

    Once you have that under your belt you’ll realise that all of your chatter has been for naught.

  421. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Bernard
    Are you blind?

    You and, not only you, appeared on this thread and rolled out your long posts, comprising substantively of personal abuse, right from the beginning. They were directed at Fuller, to begin with, then Harry. You called Harry an ‘uneducated lad’ for not understanding the concept of ecologic function and the place of humans, which was the first point I addressed your style (instead of your argument) directly.

    This style of argument comes in the way of discussion. It requires the other party to keep quiet in order for things to proceed. I made this point above.

    Don’t tell me I have thin skin. If I had ‘thin skin’ we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.

    When I pointed out that nihilism is inherent in any perspective that allows understanding of ecologic properties and processes we call ‘function’ – you turn to Bart and called me ‘science denier’. Why don’t you answer that question, let us see if we can move further from there?

    I don’t take well to ‘science denier’.

    What else does one infer but that you are incapable of making arguments, without mixing personal appellations and characterizations, with your scientific/philosophical points.

    I pointed out to Bart that attacks consume time and distract. You managed to chop off my post, very strategically, to make the post look as though I have ‘thin skin’ when you quote it? How innovative!

    That is the problem with arguing with someone whom you simultaneously want to discredit, as not worthy of attention, by smearing them in some way. Don’t do that.

    You say ‘function’ is polysemetic. Yes, my dear friend, it is. ‘Function’, just as I characterized above, is not understood in any traditional sense of the word in ecologic discussion. It refers to emergent processes and properties that arise in communities; these intertwines with physical external processes and, at many times, becomes conditionalities for individual survival. Function as understood in usual lay discourse, refers to role fulfillment and carries connotations of purpose, intent and design.
    As I mentioned above, the meaning of function glides back and forth between these two perspectives – in many ecologic texts – as convenient to the matter at hand. That is my point, and nothing more.

    Many a time, our understanding of ecologic processes – ‘function’, is employed to support or promote actively, the lay meaning of ‘function’ – the Millenium development thing and the concept of ‘ecosystem service’ fall squarely in this category. (It is these kind of activity that I view as anti-science).

    Is it ok to do so? Is it ok for a science to allow this? I don’t have the answer. I don’t think it is easy or possible to provide an answer to this question. My engagement therefore was only to point out, that is not right to pretend that the question does not even exist.

    You say the sixth extinction is upon us. I ask you: Why not? Mankind is a great force in evolution. Man is cleaning house – so to speak – in evolutionary terms. Losing biodiversity is a bad thing? Why is that? Hasn’t this happened before in nature?

  422. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    Do organisms produce urine to provide nitrogenous nutrients to other creatures? Is that their ‘function’?

    Yes, it is a function, but not their sole function.

    The problem for you, in making the argument that this is of necessity anthropomorphism, is to prove, logically, that these complex inter-related and inter-dependent functions can only be the result of a conscious and intentional decision making process, and never the result of an intention free and unconscious naturally ordered process. You haven’t because you can’t. The only logical redoubt for your clinging to this slender straw of an argument would be to conclude that the analytical observation of order in natural processes is not merely incomplete and imperfect, as it most certainly is, but a fiction projected by the human intellect upon a nature that is utterly random on all scales and scientifically meaningless.

    Do you really want to go there?

  423. luminous beauty Says:

    Shub,

    Many a time, our understanding of ecologic processes – ‘function’, is employed to support or promote actively, the lay meaning of ‘function’ – the Millenium development thing and the concept of ‘ecosystem service’ fall squarely in this category. (It is these kind of activity that I view as anti-science).

    Is it ok to do so? Is it ok for a science to allow this? I don’t have the answer. I don’t think it is easy or possible to provide an answer to this question. My engagement therefore was only to point out, that is not right to pretend that the question does not even exist.

    You refer to the normative, as opposed to the objective, meaning of ‘function’, questioning whether scientists have any business invoking the former in the context of the latter.

    Do you really believe scientists, who are human beings as well, might have no ethical responsibilities to address the consequences their objective findings may have on normative human functionality?

    I don’t find that a difficult question at all, and quite frankly, I can’t understand why you would, unless you are totally lacking any moral sensibility.

    FYI, Ecosystem service does not fall that squarely into this category. Ecosystem functionality, and the services it provides, serves to maintain sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole, not just those which people exploit for their own purposes, and would do so independently of whether people existed or not. It is precisely because human exploitation overburdens ecosystem services, that ecosystem functions and human centered functions intersect. To try and separate them as if there is an acausal relationship between the two is dangerous. Much more dangerous than confusing their nominal differences.

    How many times must you be told this before it sinks in?

  424. Sou Says:

    Shub: Rather than describe the 6th extinction as ‘man cleaning house’, I view it as more like humans destroying their house, food supply, infrastructure and life support and those of other living things.

    You ask regarding the extinction: Why not? Do you really not think it would be a ‘bad thing’ for humans to cause their own extinction as well as the extinction of other species?

    I realise there are other people who appear to have this view and that you’re not alone in being blasé about humanity’s willingness to self destruct.

  425. willard Says:

    Shub, in one same post:

    > I don’t take well to ‘science denier’.

    > (It is these kind of activity that I view as anti-science).

    “Science denier,” bad. “Anti-science,” good. Check.

    Bernard J, would you settle to say instead that some of Shub’s activities here (to identified in due time) are anti-science?

    What is an activity, by the way?

  426. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Willard, thanks for struggling so hard to not see the point.

    You expect me to not use terms like ‘anti-science’, which indicates you don’t view these terms favorably. It is a problem that one cannot use html tags here – I wanted to put the “I” in the sentence above in italics. (let me try I). In any event, I did not use ‘anti-science’ in the utterly sublime fashion that CAGW proponents screech about usually.

    Harvey,
    Let me use this brief window to say: I apologize for using those strong and frankly stupid terms to address you earlier. I stand behind the ideas I tried to convey, but I blew my chance at obtaining responses quickly, by my inappropriate personal attack. All I wanted to impress upon you was that everyone may not share certain overarching viewpoints, but that does not mean they are idiots.

  427. willard Says:

    > You expect me to not use terms like ‘anti-science’, which indicates you don’t view these terms favorably.

    Mindreading much. Personnaly, I could not care less whatever labels you fancy. At least be consistent.

    You’re labelling people. Nobody’s making you DO it. One of the Big Boys Blog rules is to take responsibility for what one says and does.

    > In any event, I did not use ‘anti-science’ in the utterly sublime fashion that CAGW proponents screech about usually.

    It’s not the labelling (here again, “CAGW proponents”) nor the characterizing (“utterly sublime”) are good, but the screeching is bad. So of course, Shub’s tone changes everything.

    > Willard, thanks for struggling so hard to not see the point.

    Shub, thanks for struggling so hard not to read what I am writing.

  428. willard Says:

    Here is the only point that could be granted to Shub, a point I shown a willingness to grant all along.

    It is quite possible to hold that what we refer to by function does not exist in the overall ontology of everything. For instance, there are people who believe that there is nothing in the heart that correspond to a function. So a function coiuld be ultimately considered as observer-relative (anthropomorphic, if you will); there is no such **thing** as a proper or intrinsic function.

    This is not an incoherent standpoint; John Searle, to name one name, is defending that position. This position has its merits (e.g. simplicity), but also its own problems (e.g. essentialism).

    ***

    That said, it is also quite plausible to hold that there exist functions the same way there exist organs. For instance, it is plausible to believe that organs exist outside conceptual schemes that make use of functional properties. There are other reasons, but let’s wait and see how the discussion goes on.

    Actually, the dominant theories of the mind are in fact (a concept with its own muddiness alright) functionalist:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/functionalism/

    and usually functionalism goes hand in hand with something called physicalism:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/

    That is, people are functionalist because they want to be able to explain cognitive and semantic properties while trying to keep everything under the known laws of physics.

    So here is what I’ll say for now to substantiate my claim that:

    > There are ways to describe and explain functional systems without succumbing to teleology.

    I hope I have at least shown that Shub’s claim that “we’ll only get mired in teleology” begs to be substantiated. While there is some appeal in Laughlin’s position, appealing to Laughlin is certainly not enough.

    ***

    And so we’re returning to the first point I made: asking

    > But what really does exist?

    can be as fruitful as to become a trick. The same thing can be said the more usual trick:

    > But how can we be sure that we know what we know?

    And the same thing can be said of this other trick:

    > Is it ok to do so?

    I suggest to call three tricks the **Gordie Howe hat trick**:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordie_Howe_hat_trick

    So to score a Gordie Howe hat trick, one would need to raise one’s game level enough to raise skeptical objections in ontology, epistemology, and ethics in the very same conversation.

    Let’s wonder what is the function of the Gordie Howe hat trick in blogland ecology.

  429. willard Says:

    The sentence:

    > For instance, it is plausible to believe that organs exist outside conceptual schemes that make use of functional properties.

    should read:

    > For instance, it is plausible to believe that organs CAN’T exist outside conceptual schemes that make use of functional properties.

    The usual argument is that concepts are all interdependent in a conceptual apparatus.

  430. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Willard,
    You know what is funny?

    Harvey, pointed out how ‘deniers’ and ‘contrarians’ just turn tail and run away when I said I will submit my ideas in a more serious forum for discussion. Subsequently, and in response to Harvey’s charge, I did elaborate on a number of points I was making (about ‘function’).

    You, in turn, did follow what I was trying to say. But you immediately turned around and called what I was doing ‘blogland ecology’.

    luminous beauty
    You said:

    The problem for you, in making the argument that this is of necessity anthropomorphism, is to prove, logically, that these complex inter-related and inter-dependent functions can only be the result of a conscious and intentional decision making process, and never the result of an intention free and unconscious naturally ordered process.

    Dear friend, by posing this query, you have answered your question yourself.

    What I am trying to ask, which you have so abusively tried to dissuade me from, is precisely this: – how is it that we refer to ‘intention-free and unconscious naturally ordered processes’, with the word ‘function’, which carries the exact opposite connotations, i.e., a word that implies purpose, intent and role fulfullment?

    It is your own question, but merely approached from the opposite direction.

    Is it because we read intention and design into emergent processes and properties? Of course it is.

  431. Chris S. Says:

    ‘What I am trying to ask, which you have so abusively tried to dissuade me from, is precisely this: – how is it that we refer to ‘intention-free and unconscious naturally ordered processes’, with the word ‘function’, which carries the exact opposite connotations, i.e., a word that implies purpose, intent and role fulfullment?”

    So it is just a matter of semantics after all? What would you call it? ‘intention-free and unconscious naturally ordered processes’ is a little clunky I’m sure you agree.

    Would you have the same issue with this use of function? : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Function_%28mathematics%29

    After all, numbers are also intention-free and unconscious are they not?

    Or perhaps you should revisit your narrow definition.

  432. willard Says:

    Shub,

    Thank you for acknowledging that I follow what you are trying to say.

    When you say that “immediately turned around and called what I was doing ‘blogland ecology’”, I am afraid that you are presuming an intention that is not there.

    We are in blogland. This is a fact. We are discussing ecology. This is another fact. In this discussion, what we say **does** something. That is an assumption of speech act theory, a theory that helps, among other things, to make sense of rhetoric. This comprises everything discussed so far, except perhaps the numbers you presuppose are necessary for you to take seriously any quantified claim about the Amazonian forest.

    ***

    In scientific discourse, and more so in “interdisciplinary joust-and-riding”, as you seem to have called it, it would not be farfetched to surmise that this kind of skepticism serves a function. Analyzing these rhetorical functions is the kind of “blogland ecology” I had in mind. A more metaphorical way to analyze these rhetorical functions is to return to my claim that you have scored a “Gordie Howe hat trick”.

    You did profess ontic skepticism when you questioned the notion of function, and the overall anti-intentionalist standpoint.

    You did profess epistemic skepticism when you asked about the “engineering” of the numbers regarding the Amazonian rate of depletion.

    Did you profess ethical skepticism? Sometimes, I think your provocations and your excoriations are on the verge of insincerity. When I tought about that metaphor, I thought so. But then I reread the complete exchange and am not sure anymore. You’ve shown enough sportsmanship to make me believe that you care more about the discussion than your feisty nonchalance and sometimes your borderline sincerity might show at first, at least to me.

    ***

    So I’ll have to adjust my Gordie Howe hat trick accordingly. In my humble opinion, you did score a goal by reacting the way you did to Jeff Harvey’s huffs and puffs, for instance:

    > My scientific background is immaterial to you. So is your scientific background to me, fortunately. I only challenge your claims, not your expertise, your name, identity or any other aspect. [...] In the end, I have two points of contention [The Amazonian tipping points and the teleology.] Again, to clarify, I dont believe that it is only ecology which is infected with such a problem. My own area in science is certainly filled to the brim with such scientific thinking. [February 22, 2011 at 20:43]

    You did enter in a fight, more than one, actually. This would be futile to document. In any case, you did apologize to Dr Harvey.

    Finally, you did have an assist, at the very least by making me discover this interesting metaphor of the Gordie Howe hat trick, for which I will always be indebted to you.

  433. SteveC Says:

    Some fascinating info has come about on this thread, and lots of food for thought. I can’t add much to the expertise of Messrs Harvey, Bernard et al, but despite being late to the party I can’t let this go by without comment:

    @ Shub March 13, 2011 at 17:11

    You say the sixth extinction is upon us. I ask you: Why not? Mankind is a great force in evolution. Man is cleaning house – so to speak – in evolutionary terms. Losing biodiversity is a bad thing? Why is that? Hasn’t this happened before in nature?

    I can’t quite believe someone who wades into this debate with the sorts of esoteric minutiae you have to date takes what you say above seriously.

    “Why not?” is your response to the accelerating rate of global extinction? We’re talking about the eradication of thousands of species and the continuing decline in the abundance and distribution of a whole swag of others (many not even known to us other than by name) that in a myriad of ways contribute to the current ecological health of the planet (and thus our own continuing survival) and may well have contributed to our arrival on the planet in the first place, and all you can say is “So what”?

    Mankind may well be a “force in evolution” but is also a product (and intimate part) of it – at some point we (as a species) will have to pay for all our dicking about with it. In some aspects we already are – loss of topsoil, air and water pollution, broadscale erosion, desertification, plundering of fish stocks, weeds, ferals declining agrficultural productivity etc. Remember, there are two sides to a coin.

    In what sense is all this loss merely “cleaning house”? Is the implication here we don’t need all these species we’ve lost or are losing? If so, how do you know this when even the likes of E. O. Wilson state that we don’t know enough about the roles and interactions of only those species we know of, let alone the ones we haven’t found yet.

    “Losing biodiversity is a bad thing? Why is that?” Do you really have to ask? Have you not read anything Jeff Harvey, Bernard, Rattus & co have written above? Are you REALLY that obtuse?

  434. SteveC Says:

    PS the human race is, from what I can see, not indulging in a spot of “house cleaning” (as you put it) here. We’re not even knocking out the odd internal wall. We’re attacking the foundations of the place and going at the structural walls with a wrecking ball.

  435. Jeff Id Says:

    “cannabis seeds for sale Says: ”

    I think this might be spam but sometimes it is hard to tell.

  436. ekologichna ocenka Says:

    ekologichna ocenka…

    [...]Biodiversity, extinction and climate change « My view on climate change[...]…

  437. Faraz Says:

    Global warming will become a biodiversity factor because there is a lot more species to come in the next decade. In those countries which are badly affected by the global warming impacts such as Pakistan, China and Japan environmental changes are occurring, the weather system is repeating its cycle with certain parameters affecting the existing wild life.

  438. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Brief update: Bernard J, Jeff Harvey et al, just saw the Mark Sagoff essay in the Nordhaus/Shellenbleeblee book: ‘Love your Monsters’ (yech).

    So the concept of ecologic function and ecosystem services was a dead horse we were flogging after all!

    Mind you, I am not saying he has resolved the issue of ecologic function. Only that those who threw their weight behid it, and the arising ideology are now ‘senescent’, living in the ‘academic assisted-living facility for “Great Chain of Being” ecology and cost-benefit economics’ (his words).

  439. willard Says:

    Brief update: a blog post explaining a paper about biological diversity:

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/category/2011/10/measuring_diversity.html

    That should provide more “functional” meat than the one Mark Sagoff, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University , might be grinding, with his ax, we might be tempted to believe.

    As a bonus, a guest appearance of the “average temperature does not exist” meme. (Readers should take note of Toby Bartels’ answer.)

    Happy New Year!

  440. willard Says:

    I stumbled upon this discussion by stumbling upon:

    http://opusminimax.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/nihilism/

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