(see Cade, Chapter 32), bald eagle, Arabian oryx, or Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish, we need new scientific comprehension and a responsive technology. We must be able to relocate, sustain, or store a threatened population, to start and stop its propagation, and to reintroduce or remove it.
Because many populations of species in nature are becoming fragmented and isolated from each other, the emigration and immigration necessary for them to find unrelated mates of the right age and gender are becoming impossible. In such instances, intervention technologies will be necessary to effect the required movements. In such small populations, localized catastrophes, disease, sex and age imbalances, and even inbreeding can threaten viability (Schonewald-Cox et al., 1983). In response, technology may make it possible to remove or insert individuals into populations or even embryos or zygotes with needed characteristics into individuals (see Dresser, Chapter 34).
Where conservation biologists identify threatened but critical coevolutionary links, especially those between keystone species essential to ecosystem stability and diversity, sustaining these links for a time by scientific management of predators, competitors, even of environmental chemistry, microclimate, and with reintroductions, may be our only option for preservation.
But if such technological treatments and repairs are possible, why can not science and technology simply save biodiversity? Perhaps, as H.L.Mencken is reported to have said in a different context: “For every complex problem there is a simple answer and it is wrong.”
Most losses of biological diversity, to say nothing of lost ecological services, are quite beyond human ability to repair. Too many very intricately interdependent species are being lost too rapidly with too many unpredictable consequences for others. Besides, sustaining species in a freezer, in a captive population, or in small fragmented refuges provides little to the Earth in the way of basic ecological services. However, intensive care and biotechnology can preserve some diversity that would otherwise be lost. But the greatest dimension of such preservation is depressingly slight compared with that which can be or could have been sustained in adequately designed and protected nature preserves and by understanding accommodation outside preserves.
It is the numbers, whether they be those of the great variety of creatures requiring help or those representing the scarcity of biologists and dollars to help them, that discourage prospects for sustaining a sizeable proportion of living creatures solely through technology—despite our most ardent wishes or most arrogant imaginings. There are perhaps 400,000 species of plants. In Chapter 31, Ashton discusses their preservation in gardens and arboreta. But there may be 30 million kinds of invertebrates, mostly insects. Despite their importance, the overwhelming number of