Project Leader, Institute of Tropical Forestry, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
This chapter focuses on the empirical basis of estimates for species extinctions in tropical environments. The variation in estimates commonly cited (Table 6–1) points to inconsistencies that require discussion. I also call attention to examples in the tropics that suggest ecosystem resiliency in the conservation of species diversity. My intention is not to diminish in any way the sense of urgency that resource managers and government agencies should have about the progressive increment of loss and onerous consequences of a reduction in the number of species. Instead, I hope to stimulate a more critical and balanced scientific analysis of the issue.
The need for a balanced and rigorous analysis of the loss-of-species issue stems from the unquantifiable importance of species diversity to life support on a global scale. Scientists must be as precise as possible when communicating such important phenomena to the public and its governmental representatives. A loss of scientific credibility can seriously hamper continuing efforts to develop lasting popular support for the conservation of ecological diversity. Also, the time, money, and talent needed to address the ecological problems of the tropics are very limited, and their allocation is affected by public perception of the situation. Errors of perception lead to waste of resources and loss of opportunity to achieve solutions.
The numbers cited for species decline and used to gain public support for the conservation of species diversity are impressive. According to Myers (1979), the