Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Corridors increase plant species richness at large scales: An immediate dividend from the Scientific Lawyer

Cutting-edge researchMy post announcing The Scientific Lawyer spoke in passing of "the hopes and anxieties that law can address only by resort to science." I very much hope that The Scientific Lawyer, of its own accord, will provide a real service to legally educated readers of scientific literature. At the same time, I feel compelled to explain how I hope The Scientific Lawyer will further the goals of the Jurisdynamics Network.

The Scientific Lawyer's listing of the latest articles from Science enabled me to post the following item at BioLaw as that forum's article of the week:

Habitat corridorsEllen I. Damschen, Nick M. Haddad, John L. Orrock, Joshua J. Tewksbury & Douglas J. Levey, Corridors Increase Plant Species Richness at Large Scales, 313 Science 1284 (Sept. 1, 2006) (DOI: 10.1126/science.1130098):

Habitat fragmentation is one of the largest threats to biodiversity. Landscape corridors, which are hypothesized to reduce the negative consequences of fragmentation, have become common features of ecological management plans worldwide. Despite their popularity, there is little evidence documenting the effectiveness of corridors in preserving biodiversity at large scales. Using a large-scale replicated experiment, we showed that habitat patches connected by corridors retain more native plant species than do isolated patches, that this difference increases over time, and that corridors do not promote invasion by exotic species. Our results support the use of corridors in biodiversity conservation.

Why feature this finding, interesting in its own right though it may be, more prominently than any other developments in science during the past week? Because the federal courts have persistently refused to give full credit to conservation biology in general, and in particular to that discipline's insights into the value of geographic corridors, in disputes involving public lands and biodiversity management. Two cases, which I discuss in Across the Apocalypse on Horseback, deserve special mention.

First, Sierra Club v. Marita, 46 F.3d 606 (7th Cir. 1995) refused to hold the Forest Service accountable for its failure to consider "population dynamics, species turnover, patch size, recolonization problems, fragmentation problems, edge effects, and island biogeography. Instead, the court reasoned, the uncertainty inherent in the application of these concepts excused the Service from applying them in any particular "concrete situation" involving forest management.

GrizzlySecond, Fund for Animals v. Babbitt, 903 F. Supp. 96 (D.D.C. 1995), converted the very complexity of conservation biology into a basis for relieving the government of any obligation to prepare an "exhaustively detailed recovery plan" for grizzly bears. The court thereupon refused to interpret the Endangered Species Act as requiring "linkage zones between ecosystems inhabited by grizzlies" or any other managerial technique.

Whatever its status in the courts a decade ago, conservation biology has continued to build its considerable storehouse of knowledge regarding habitat corridors. The article by Damschen et al. epitomizes the sort of new learning that warrants reconsideration of received legal wisdom regarding this form of adaptive management. That is precisely the sort of value that The Scientific Lawyer should bring to the law. I hope that I -- and the entire online network that I am continuing to build -- will take full advantage of this tool, the better to inform the law through scientific awareness and wisdom.


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11/23/2006 1:28 AM  

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