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Worthless Plants & Animals

Bayou-Diversity (11 October 2019) A famous conservationist, a man who is considered the father of modern wildlife management, understood the natural world better than most people of his time and indeed better than most people today 71 years after his death. Aldo Leopold understood that a species of plant or animal does not and cannot exist in isolation from other plants and animals. He knew that there are always critical connections between life forms that when severed tend to wreak havoc on the various plants and animals in their particular ecosystem. Leopold once said, "the last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?'" Unfortunately, many people still ask that selfish question in regard to species that are not warm and cuddly or have no apparent monetary value. For those, answers laden with aesthetic values or the merits of "keeping all the parts" are at right angles with their reality. These folks are only interested in conserving those species that bring them pleasure or profit. There are, however, plenty of examples of uncharismatic plants and animals that benefit humans. Horseshoe crabs would not even place in an invertebrate beauty contest, yet they are harvested by the millions for a blood component used to diagnose bacterial infections in humans. Many of our most important medicines are derived from otherwise unremarkable wild plants. Few people are aware that they or a loved one might soon be treated with drugs resulting from research on alligator blood. Those with diabetes or burn victims in particular stand to benefit from the reptiles. Each of these species depends on a web of life that includes many other plants and animals. We are aware of some of the connections between them, but surely there are many we are yet to comprehend. And, believe it or not, the well-being of humans is welded hard to that same well-being of many wild plants and animals, cuddly or not. (Adapted from “Bayou-Diversity 2; LSU Press)


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