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The CREO Research Program

  • Goals of the Research Program
  • Why is this Research Program Necessary?
  • Project Scope

  • CREO was developed because accurate extinction surveys are urgently needed.

    A precise system for surveying extinctions empirically is required so that assessments of biodiversity loss are both reliable and of greatest applied value for further research. Unreliable data, or data that cannot be easily associated with substantiating evidence, attract criticism and result in a loss of confidence from the public and from political bodies (Mann, 1991; Kottelat, 1994; Simon, 1996; Simon and Wildavsky, 1995). This can have a detrimental effect on conservation measures, including lack of support and funding.

    Goals of the Research Program

    We have identified major impediments to the collection, analysis, and dissemination of extinction data, and have developed goals to correct these problems:

    • 1) Develop criteria for defining extinction and evaluating evidence of extinction -- this analysis will determine whether there is enough evidence to conclude that a species is extinct, or whether additional information is required to clarify its status. An emphasis will be placed on establishing the taxonomic validity of each species evaluated, and thoroughly documenting all information sources used in the evaluation.

    The CREO research program is designed to streamline the process of documenting existing extinction data, and provide a better system for interpreting those data -- resulting in accurate, comprehensive extinction surveys. Survey data will be made available to scientists, conservation organizations, policy makers, and the general public via publications and databases.

    Why is this Research Program Necessary?

    Currently, no comparable efforts are being made to compile and evaluate data on extinct species as thoroughly as the CREO research program. Yet, without the rigorous documentation methodology proposed here, we will not have reliable data that can be used in a number of important conservation applications.

    This research program was developed in order to improve the quality and quantity of extinct species data, particularly because existing global surveys of recent extinctions are prone to error (see Why was CREO Developed? for more information). Our approach is significantly different from existing approaches to inventorying extinctions. Specifically, we recognize:

    • Rigorous criteria are required to assess whether the evidence of a species' apparent absence is sufficient to indicate that it is extinct. The requirements for this kind of assessment are different from methodologies designed to measure threats to existing populations.

    • All sources of evidence for a particular extinction must be thoroughly documented, and these sources should be made available to anyone interested. Researchers should be able to check source information for themselves so as to judge the merits of inclusion of a species on an extinction survey.

    • Sound taxonomic information is crucial. An understanding of the classification, distribution, and evolution of taxa underpins the baseline knowledge of species-level diversity. Thus, any attempt to conserve this biodiversity requires the same level of understanding (McNaughton, 1994; Nielson and West, 1994; Kottelat, 1995; Brookes, 1998). In other words, "The name is the key to knowledge. No name--no information. Wrong name--wrong information" (BioNET-International, cited by Powledge, 1998). Recognizing this, the 1996 Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a Global Taxonomy Initiative to formally establish that "a sound taxonomic...knowledge base is a prerequisite for environmental assessment, ecological research, and the conservation of biological diversity...."

      Addressing extinction in particular, Eldredge (1992) stated, "the mechanism of extinction may lie squarely within the province of ecology, but we measure extinction taxonomically, squarely within the realm of systematics." Certainly, determining whether or not a species is extinct is logically secondary to determining whether or not its status as a species can be verified on the basis of reliable taxonomic information. When extinction data are neither compiled nor evaluated by taxonomic specialists, resulting surveys will provide spurious accounts of the taxonomic distributions of extinctions and distort the numbers of species recognized to be extinct.

    Project Scope

    The CREO program will focus on the documentation of global extinctions during the modern era, taking AD 1500 as the minimum earliest starting date for this documentation. Extinctions after AD 1500 represent those most pertinent to current biodiversity issues. This date also marks a time when recorded evidence for the loss of species in association with human movement and activities became more common. However, there may be cases of earlier extinctions that are relevant to the evaluation of current patterns and processes of extinction, and these events will also be evaluated (e.g. extinctions associated with Polynesian expansion 1000 to 4000 years ago; Pimm et al., 1994, 1995; Steadman, 1995; Diamond, 1997).

    In order to evaluate rates and comparisons of loss across taxa, coverage will include all species in Animalia and Plantae for which recent extinctions can be feasibly determined. Evaluation of other kingdoms will take place where pertinent information exists.

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