The inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and biodiversity

arctic fox eating an auklet

Arctic foxes were introduced to the Aleutians where they waged war on the seabird population, such as this poor least auklet.

I am a speciesist. Yep. I accept the title. I do believe some individual animals of certain species do have certain privileges that others don’t.

Owned domestic dogs should be treated as individuals, as should anything else kept as an actual companion animal.

Individual animals that must be culled through hunting seasons, like white-tailed deer, get no individual consideration. What matters about those species is carrying capacity as determined by wildlife managers.

Invasive species anywhere should receive even fewer protections than the game species.

That’s because as a conservationist, I value biodiversity over individual animals.

So I really don’t care that conservationists have trapped and killed introduced arctic foxes in the Aleutians, feral cats in the islands of the Sea of Cortés, or red foxes in Australia.

I don’t care about the individual deer that are shot every year in the United States. I care much more about what they are doing to temperate forest ecosystems.  They exist in a world without predators, predators that will never be reintroduced in significant numbers, and it is vital that humans manage their populations.

I don’t think an absolute moral system can be applied to all animals. Indeed, I have issues with the concept of an absolute morality period.

I know, though, that we are but one chain of biodiversity on the planet. And it is out of this chain that we somehow became the dominant species on the planet. As the dominant species, we like to think we’re above all other species, when we’re just the ones at the top right now.

I don’t think every invasive or introduced species is a negative on the ecosystem. Ring-necked pheasants are mostly banal where they have been introduced. In North America, common carp are generally not an invasive species either.

But many things that have been introduced clearly are.

Especially on islands.

New Zealand had rabbits that were introduced, which ate down much of the good sheep grazing. Then stoats, weasel, and polecat-ferret hybrids were released to control the rabbits, and the mustelids wreaked havoc upon the ground-nesting bird population. New Zealand is a place full of unique ground-nesting birds, and it was once fuller of those species before the weasel horde hit its shores.

Therefore, to protect things like the kakapo, a massive ground-nesting parrot, it is necessary to kill these predators.

Animal rights ideology, which posits an absolute set of rights for individual animals, cannot allow for this killing.

So this ideology would rather have all the kakapo and native New Zealand birds go extinct, just because this ideology doesn’t want to see a guild of invasive predators killed off.

And I must say that I have to reject this ideology, because it clashes with my aesthetic, which requires us to maintain biodiversity as much as possible.

That’s because I know fully well that in a hundred years, that biodiversity will be reduced. Habitat loss, poaching, pollution, climate change, and invasive species will take their toll on a whole host of species.

And the diversity of life from which we descend will be reduced because of us.

Therefore we must kill invasive species to protect as much of life as we can.  It is this paradox that many people cannot understand, but failure to understand this concept is ultimately going to add to the many species that will go extinct.

But in the end, animal rights ideology and conservation are not the same thing. Hunters who oppose animal rights ideology should stop conflating the two systems of thought. Animal rights ideology has no room for hunters, but true conservationists, who want to protect wild places from rampant development, believe hunters are part of the solution.

And virtually everyone is a speciesist. I am one, and it is only a small minority who try to hold absolute values when it comes to animals.

We have these inconsistencies, but they are not without reason. And although most mammals are very much like your own pet dog, they don’t act in the ecosystem in the same way. Transferring one’s feelings about a pet dog onto a mongoose in Hawaii is not wise– that is, if you care about nene. If you don’t care about biodiversity, then go ahead.

But don’t pretend that these two concepts are consistent. They are not.

And they are very much in conflict with each other.

Natural History

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Too Much Easter Candy!


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9 Subtle Statement Earrings

9 Understated Statement Earrings

I feel like hoops and tassels are all I’ve worn for earrings in the past year, so I went searching for something unique and fell in love with all of these above. I love that they’re mostly statement earrings, but they’re understated. (Does that make them Understatement Earrings? Hmmmm.) Which is your favorite?

(All of these earrings are from Madewell, but this is not a sponsored post. Just love them all!)

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This dog is being trained to sniff…water

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Win an #IsleofDogs Prize Pack! #Giveaway

We’ve got a special giveaway of interest to movie-loving dog lovers! Enter to win a special ISLE OF DOGS movie prize pack to celebrate the release of this new stop-motion-animated film from…



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DogTipper

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Magnificent Milestones – Why My Toddler’s Firsts Mean So Much

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of Carter’s; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

When my son Emmett was born in January of 2016, I had absolutely no idea just how profoundly the milestones he achieved as a toddler would affect me. Throughout his sister Essley’s first year (she was my first babe and is now four), I obsessively researched baby milestones, and she hit all of them at what is considered to be on track or early. I assumed Emmett would be the same way. And then, at seven months old, he was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, the most catastrophic form of childhood epilepsy. Most children with IS go on to have severe developmental delays. And while Emmett is one of the rare few who “beat” IS – he responded quickly to medication, is one year and seven months seizure free, and has been repeatedly assessed as developmentally on track – every little thing new he does, milestone or otherwise, brings us such joy and a deep sense of gratitude. Many of you have little ones in your lives as well, and regardless of whether you’ve had unique challenges like we have or a very typical experience with your babes’ development, I know you can relate to the emotions that “firsts” trigger in us as parents. In many ways, we grow right along with our children. So today I thought I’d share some of Emmett’s recent magnificent milestones (what his big sister Essley calls it when he does something new), and a little more on why they make me so, so happy.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Now that the baby “firsts” (first tooth, first solid food, first time crawling, first steps, etc.) have all been met and Emmett is in full toddler mode, the biggest developmental milestone for us is speech. While Emmett has been assessed as on track (and even ahead) developmentally in most areas, his speech, while not technically delayed, has always come in a couple of month behind his age. He is actually in speech therapy now twice a month, so we work a lot with him on repetition, short sentences, etc. He has really taken off over the last two weeks with stringing words into sentences, which has been a huge goal. (I have tears in my eyes even typing it out!) I especially love when he pretends to read books, and makes his little two word sentences along with long sentences of made up word full of the most daring inflections. I could sit there and listen to him for hours. Watching Emmett progress with his speech brings me a great sense of pride, as he’s worked so hard. It kind of feels like a miracle.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett has also recently started counting everything (he can make it to 12, but sometimes prefers to leave out 7 and 9). His new favorite activity is playing his own special version of hide and seek, where he counts even when he is the one hiding (which is always in the same spot of our living room, right by the piano). He also loves to count each puzzle piece as he places it into a puzzle. It makes my heart so full of joy you guys. Truly. When I think back to being in the hospital with Emmett after we got the news of his epilepsy diagnosis and reading about how he would likely never even say one number, much less know how to count, I feel overcome with gratitude. It’s incredible.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Another milestone that has brought me such happiness is seeing Emmett move on from the parallel play stage to really socializing with other kids. He loves playing with his big sister more than anything, and seeing them become best friends allows me to see our family in a new (and amazing way) as well. When we’re at the park or one of Essley’s activities and he sees another toddler, he immediately runs up to them and initiates play. Once again I think back to our early days of his diagnosis and the uncertainty of his future in terms of social interaction, and I feel so thankful when I see him connect with others.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett has also taken on a new love for performing, especially dancing, which is pretty freaking fantastic to watch. His sister has been taking dance since she was 18 months old and often practices at home, and now Emmett has to participate too, every time. He recently learned to jump with both feet and is quite proud of himself, so he incorporates that into his sweet dance moves. I hope the unique qualities he brings to his dancing continue into his life as he grows. It brings me such joy to see him developing a personality and his own little quirks that make him him.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett is also starting to follow in his big sister’s footsteps in terms of a desire to pick out his own clothes each day. (He even – albeit awkwardly – attempt to dress himself!) His taste in fashion isn’t quite as eclectic as Essley’s, but he knows what he likes. And if there is a dinosaur on it, that’s what he wants to wear. His current favorites are this blue jersey slub tee and this pocket tee from Carter’s – both featuring dinosaurs of course. I love pairing them both with these super cute and comfy pull-on poplin pants and denim dock shorts, and can’t wait for it to get warm enough for him to wear these flip-flops on the daily! We’re big Carter’s fans in this house. (Essley is wearing her favorite nightgown in the piano picture above, also from Carter’s, and you can see them in their matching PJ sets from this past holiday season below.) Carter’s has been with us from the start, honestly – some of the first baby gifts I received when I got pregnant with Essley back in 2013 were Carter’s baby clothes – and has been a part of our milestone journeys with both babes. I have so many pictures on my phone’s camera roll with the kids wearing Carter’s clothes. And their new video, With You From the Start, gave me all the feels – because it’s so true.

Watching Emmett progress through his own magnificent milestones has been – and continues to be -such an intensely wonderful experience for me. Each new thing he does as he grows genuinely makes me grow too, as a parent and as a human being. He and his sister are truly my hearts. I am so grateful for them, and every single experience that comes with them.

If you are a parent, and aunt/uncle, a grandparents, or have special kids in your life, I would love to hear more about your little ones’ magnificent milestones and what they’ve meant to you!

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United Airlines has not had a good month, or year, for canine public relations

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Canis mosbachensis and the origins of the modern Canis species

African golden wolf

What we do know about the origins of Canis species is much more hotly-contested than what we know about the evolution of our own species. The earliest fossils of the genus are roughly 6 million years old, and the oldest species in the “wolf lineage” is Canis lepophagus, which lived in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico 5 million years ago.  This species is often posited as the direct ancestor of the coyote, and it may have been a direct ancestor of all the entire wolf-like canid lineage.

Of course, recent discoveries that have come from full genome comparisons make things a little complicated. With the discovery that coyotes diverged from gray wolves as recently as 50,000 years ago, the linear evolution from Canis lepophagus to Canis latrans is probably invalid.  Further another full genome study that used a single Israeli golden jackal (Canis aureus) as the outgrouping sample to determine when dogs and gray wolves split, revealed that this particular jackal diverged from gray wolves less than 400,000 years ago.

Both of these dates are far more recent that the millions of years that are assumed to separate these wolf-like canids from each other. Of course, more work must be done. We need more studies on coyote genomes, but these researchers have come across what could be the most important discovery in our understanding of the evolution of Canis species. Depending upon the study, coyotes and gray wolves were thought to have diverged between 700,000 to 1 million years ago, and this assumption is used to calculate when other Canis have diverged.

Now, this assumption always did bother me, because if Canis lepophagus leads directly to Canis latrans, where do wolves fit in?  Because in order for that model to work, gray wolves have to evolve from a very small coyote-like ancestor with very few transitions in between. It always just seemed to me like it was unworkable.

Further, there is a whole host of literature on the evolution of gray wolves in Eurasia, and in most European literature, there is a general acceptance of how gray wolves evolved from a smaller wolf called Canis mosbachensis.

Wolfgang Soergel, a German paleontologist at the University of Tübingen, discovered Canis mosbachensis at a site near Jockgrim in 1925. The animal is sometimes called the “Mosbach wolf,” which means it was found in the Mosbach Sands, where many fossils from the Middle Pleistocene have been found.

Mark Derr was particularly interested in this species in his How the Dog Became the Dog.  He points out that the earliest dated fossils of this species are 1.5 million years old and come from the ‘Ubeidiya excavations in Israel.  The most recent Canis mosbachensis remains in Europe are about 400,000 years old, after which time they were replaced by Canis lupus.  Derr speculated about the relationship mosbachensis might have had with early hominin species, which were also well-known from that site, and suggested that they might had some kind of relationship.

Further, there is a growing tendency among paleontologists to group Canis mosbachensis with another wolf that was its contemporary. This wolf, called Canis variabilis, was discovered at the Zhoukoudian Cave System in China in 1934. Its discoverer was Pei Wenzhong, who became respected paleontologist, archaeologist, and anthropologist in the People’s Republic of China. It was a small wolf with a proportionally smaller brain, and it has long been a subject of great speculation.

And this speculation tends to get lots of attention, for this cave system is much more famous for the discovery of a type of Homo erectus called “Peking Man.”  It is particularly popular among the people who insist that dogs are not wolves, which is about as scientifically untenable as the “birds are not dinosaurs” (BAND) clique of scholarship.

Mark Derr and as well as more established scholarship have begun to group variabilis and mosbachensis together. Variablis has also been found in Yakutia, and it may have been that varibablis nothing more than an East Asian variant of mosbachensis.

These wolves were not large animals. They varied from the size of an Eastern coyote to the size of an Indian wolf. They were not the top dogs of the Eurasian predator guild.

Indeed, they played second fiddle to a larger pack-hunting canid called Xenocyon lycaonoides, a large species that is sometimes considered ancestral to the African wild dog and the dhole, but the recent discovery of Lycaon sekoweiwhich was a much more likely ancestor of the African wild dog, suggests that it was more likely a sister species to that lineage.

Although canids resembling Canis lupus have been found in Alaska and Siberia that date to 800,000 years ago, anatomically modern wolves are not confirmed in the Eurasian faunal guild until 300,000-500,000 years before present.

I’m throwing a lot of dates at you right now, because if the modern Canis lupus species is as recent as the current scholarship suggests, then we can sort of begin to piece together how the entire genus evolved.

And we’re helped by the fact that we have an ancient DNA study on a Yakutian “Canis variablis” specimen. This specimen would have been among the latest of its species, for it has been dated to 360,000 years before present. Parts of its ancient mitochondrial DNA has been compared to other sequences from ancient wolves, and it has indeed confirmed that this animal is related to the lineage that leads to wolves and domestic dogs.  The paper detailing its findings suggests that there is a direct linkage between this specimen and modern dog lineages, but one must be careful in interpreting too much from limited mitochondrial DNA studies.

360,000 years ago is not that far from the proposed divergence between gray wolves and the Israel golden jackal in genome comparison study I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

This really could suggest something a bit controversial and bold. It make take some time for all this to be tested, but it is a hypothesis worth considering.

I suggest that all this evidence shows that Canis mosbachensis is the ancestor of all interfertile Canis, with the possible exception of the Ethiopian wolf.

If the Ethiopian wolf is not descended from that species, then it is a sister taxon. It is not really clear how divergent Ethiopian wolves are from the rest of interfertile Canis, but their divergence estimates currently suggest that it diverged from the rest of the wolf-like clade 1.6 million years ago, which is just before Canis mosbachensis appears in the fossil record.

If that more recent date holds for the split for the Eurasian golden jackal, then it is almost certain that this hypothesis is correct.  The Eurasian golden jackal may be nothing more than a sister species to a great species complex that includes the coyote, gray wolf, dingo, and domestic dog that both derived from divergent populations of Canis mosbachensis. 

The exact position of the Himalayan wolf and the African golden wolf are still not clear. We do know, though, that both are more closely related to the coyote and gray wolf than the Eurasian golden jackal is, and if its split from the gray wolf is a recent as less than 400,000 years ago, then it is very likely that all of these animals are more closely related to the main Holarctic population of gray wolves than we have assumed.

The recent divergence of all these Canis species is why there is so much interfertility among them.

And if these animals are as recently divergent as is inferred, their exact species status is going to be questioned.

And really should be, at least from a simple cladistics perspective.

More work does need to be done, but I don’t think my hypothesis is too radical.

It just seems that this is a possibility that could explored.

 

 

Natural History

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