Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Who Is Conservation For? - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Who Is Conservation For? - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Once, Gretchen Daily only had eyes for the rain forest.
Eighteen years ago, as a young scientist on the rise, Daily arrived at a renowned research station in the hills of Costa Rica armed with nearly 100 shellacked plywood platforms. As a student at Stanford University, studying under the famed biologist Paul Ehrlich, she had seen how large birds, defying expectations, seemed to thrive on small bits of forest spackled in the area's coffee plantations, when theory predicted their demise. On her return, she planned to spread her feeding platforms in staggered densities to test that observation; local kids promised to monitor the mesitas.
But when the morning came, so did the bees.
Africanized honeybees had swarmed the mesitas. The locals, always supportive of research on their lands, were peeved; every year these killer bees claim a few lives in Costa Rica. No one died, but the experiment was an utter, fast failure. "It was an 'aha!' moment," Daily said later, "but it was, 'Aha, what an idiot I've been.'" She was at a loss. She already had a spot at the station. She couldn't just leave, nor could she learn how to study a different creature before her stint was over. She knew birds, of course, but was never great at sorting species by their song, which ruled out work in the cacophonous forest. On the farms, though, she realized, she could use her eyes and master a smaller list of warbles, tying the birds' incidence to cultivation methods and the forest's verge. It was pure survey work, but it hadn't been done. And so it was that Daily looked outside the forest.

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