What should we conserve? Lessons learned on Haleakal'a

Monday, April 4, 2016: 1:50 PM
Marlin (Pacific Beach Hotel)
James Liebherr , Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Why do we practice conservation biology? There are ethical, practical, and sociological concerns in any answer to that question. A high concentration of biodiversity within very limited geographical area brings those concerns into sharp relief for Hawaii. What should we conserve? Traditionally, species or communities have been the targets of conservation management. I will argue that lineages—the suite of evolutionary end products of a multi-species radiation—could form an alternate framework for conservation management. Using the carabid beetles of Haleakalā as examples I will show: 1, related species have evolved in ecologically similar, though geographically disjunct habitats across the face of Haleakalā volcano; and 2, area relationships exhibited by different sets of closely related species are incongruent geographically. The first finding suggests that representative members of various beetle lineages can aid characterization of distinct communities up until now principally defined by dominant plants. It also suggests a research program focusing on why particular species respect particular barriers, whereas other species do not. The second finding produces a challenge for Hawaiian conservation biology, i.e. in order to understand the processes by which Hawaii inherited such rampant biodiversity, multiple representative species across multiple lineages must be conserved. Fortunately, much of the conservation infrastructure necessary to accomplish such a conservation program is already in place for Haleakalā, with coordinated management of the ecological threats to a constellation of natural areas the highest perceived priority.