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Trent Grads Publish Research on Resurrecting Extinct Species in Prestigious Journal

May 31, 2016

Study led by Michael Peers explores challenges in resurrecting extinct species

A Trent-based team’s research around how de-extinct species may occupy contemporary landscapes, has caught the attention of prestigious journal, Biological Conservation.

The paper, authored by Michael Peers, who graduated from Trent in 2015 with an M.Sc. in Environmental & Life Science, as well as fellow Trent University graduates Yasmine Majchrzak and Guillaume Bastille-Rousseau, Dr. Dennis Murray, a Canada research chair in Integrative Wildlife Conservation and professor at Trent, and Washington State University faculty member, Dr. Daniel Thornton, assesses the potential for restoring free-ranging populations of three extinct bird species and indicates substantial mismatch between historic and future suitability for each of the three species examined.

Researchers worldwide are exploring this concept of “de-extinction” – the possibility that extinct species can be revived using genetic material as a basis for embryo development and growth, using surrogate species. Although to date de-extinction has yet to be broadly accepted by the scientific community and its potential implementation remains in very preliminary stages, several research teams across the world, including this group at Trent, are working toward the goal of releasing previously-extinct species into the wild.

“Changing environments have drastically altered the historic suitable space for these candidates and any resurrected population will not likely adhere to their historic range boundaries,” said Mr. Peers. “Re-established populations of extinct species may cause conflicts with existing ecosystems occurring beyond their previous range limits.”  

Interestingly, the increase in protected habitat has benefited all three bird species that Mr. Peers was focusing on. “If our aim is to increase biodiversity and prevent re-extinction, release sites could target protected areas outside previous ranges that are predicted to remain suitable in the future,” explains Mr. Peers who does caution that “Release in these areas could have uncertain impacts on existing species.”

Although still in its early phases, this type of research will help asses de-extinction possibility for when resurrecting species is possible.

“Our research represents a template for the analyses that should be conducted prior to resurrection.” He further notes “Whether the benefits of bringing back extinct species outweighs the risks to current ecosystems will require further analysis