INSIGHTS | LETTERS
816 23 MAY 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6186 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
relationships, or genetic or epigenetic
variation. As taxonomists and ecologists,
we do not want to know only that a species exists but to understand what makes
it unique compared to related species.
Given the importance of the phenotype-environment interface in natural selection,
we potentially sacrifice the most important things to know about a species when
we forego more than superficial evidence
of anatomical details.
With millions of species threatened by
extinction, it would be tragic were we left
with no more than a few photographs and
sequences as evidence they were once here.
Given well-preserved specimens, we can
continue to marvel at adaptations, discover
models for biomimicry, refine theories of
character transformations, and verify the
state of internal or external structures
discovered in related species. As the last
generation with the opportunity to explore,
discover, and document millions of species
evolved over billions of years, we should
not be so arrogant as to assume what science of the future may want or need.
Frank-T. Krell1 and Quentin D. Wheeler2
1Department of Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature
& Science, Denver, CO 80205, USA. 2College
of Environmental Science and Forestry, State
University of New York, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA.
*Corresponding author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. D. A. Norton et al., Taxon 43, 181 (1994).
2. K. Winker etal.,Auk127,690(2010).
THE PURPOSE OF OUR Perspective was
to raise awareness about an issue that
will increase in prevalence as the global
biodiversity crisis unfolds: Absent a
reliable estimate of population size, is
it prudent and ethical to collect a newly
observed individual of a species so rare it
was thought extinct [e.g., (1)]? We support the work of natural history museums,
and nowhere in our discussion did we
argue that responsible collecting should
be halted. Specimen collections provide
invaluable contributions to many disciplines beyond taxonomy [e.g., (2, 3)];
moreover, we continue to collect ourselves
(J.P.C. and R.P.). We repeatedly emphasized
that we were targeting the specific context
of small and vulnerable populations only.
We would like to believe that we live in
Rocha et al.’s world in which the respon-
sible collector follows every regulation and
ethical code (where these exist). Our own
experience and research, however, paint
a more complicated picture. A culture of
responsible scientific practice is harder to
establish than just following regulatory
prescriptions and ethical injunctions (4).
Rocha et al. also introduce a red herring by
raising the distinction between individual-and population- or species-level concern
in conservation, which we understand
and have discussed elsewhere (5). It is
obvious that our Perspective concerns
survival of populations and species; the
individual specimen becomes important in
our argument because of the small size of
populations, especially when (as in the case
of rediscovered amphibian populations)
such individuals are found coexisting with
the lethal pathogen that likely greatly
reduced their numbers (6).
Nowhere do we claim that scientific
collection is a leading driver of extinction.
We are aware of the major threats posed by
habitat loss and fragmentation, commercial use, exotic species, toxins, infectious
diseases, and climate change (7). Collectors
may have taken the last Auks, but the species was pushed to the brink of extinction
by centuries of human overexploitation.
Still, the point remains that without a reliable estimate of population size, collecting
individuals from a small, isolated population can pose an extinction risk. We believe
that it is important to highlight this risk,
and to suggest how to mitigate the threat.
We are troubled by Krell and Wheeler’s
argument, which seems to suggest that collecting in vulnerable populations is justified
as a way to preserve the present for a future
in which many species will be extinct. Even
small populations seem eligible for collecting based on their claim that such species
are already among the “walking dead.” If
collecting a specimen increases extinction
risk, however, then it is a threat to biodiversity and should be avoided. Krell and
Wheeler object to the “arrogance” of assuming “what science of the future may want
or need,” but we find more hubris in their
suggestion that taxonomists and ecologists
should be unconcerned about driving the
final nail in a species’ coffin.
Cultural change in science can be difficult. Long-established techniques are
questioned as alternatives arise. Specimen
collection is no exception, especially in
light of growing concerns about our entering a sixth mass extinction event (8), and
we encourage more research into new
ways to document Earth’s biodiversity.
A precautionary approach to scientific
collection will help ensure that we do not
put additional pressure on already vulnerable populations as we seek to identify
organisms new to science, or to confirm a
species’ welcome return from the dead.
Ben A. Minteer,1 James P. Collins,1
Robert Puschendorf 2
1School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85287, USA. 2School of Biological
Sciences, Plymouth University, Drake Circus,
Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK.
*Corresponding author. E-mail: email@example.com
1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Craugastor
fleischmanni ( www.iucnredlist.org/details/56603/0).
2. C. Moritz et al., Science322, 261 (2008).
3. R. Puschendorf, F. Bolaños, G. Chaves, Biol. Conserv. 132,
4. B. A. Minteer, J. P. Collins, Sci. Eng. Ethics 14, 483 (2008).
5. B. A. Minteer, J. P. Collins, ILAR J. 54, 41 (2013).
6. M. J. Ryan, F. Bolaños, G. Chaves, Science (2010);
published online: www.sciencemag.org/content/329/
7. J. P. Collins, M. Crump, Extinction in Our Times: Global
Amphibian Decline (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2009).
8. E. Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
(Henry Holt, New York, 2014).
Editor’s note: We are simplifying our procedure for making corrections to articles published in Science, while maintaining transparency for our readers. The full text and PDF
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published online will appear in a subsequent
print issue in this space.
Erratum for the Research Article: “Total
Synthesis of a Functional Designer Eukaryotic
Chromosome” by N. Annaluru et al., Science
344, 1254596 (2014). Published online 18 April;
Erratum for the Report: “Wild Pollinators
Enhance Fruit Set of Crops Regardless of
Honey Bee Abundance” by L. A. Garibaldi et al.,
Science 344, 1255213 (2014). Published online 2
Erratum for the News & Analysis: “Designer
Microbes Expand Life’s Genetic Alphabet”
by R. F. Service, Science 344, 1255780
(2014). Published online 16 May; 10.1126/
Erratum for the Report: “I-Love-Q: Unexpected
Universal Relations for Neutron Stars and
Quark Stars” by K. Yagi and N. Yunes, Science
344, 1250349 (2014). Published online 23 May;
Erratum for the Report: “Mapping the
Cellular Response to Small Molecules Using
Chemogenomic Fitness Signatures” by A. Y. Lee
et al., Science 344, 1255771 (2014). Published
online 23 May; 10.1126/science.1255771