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Posted Wed Feb 24 2010: from Mongabay:
Extinct animals are quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines
Lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Turvey, was a member of the original expedition in 2006. He returned to the Yangtze in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji and other vanishing megafauna in the river, including the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. In these interviews Turvey and his team found clear evidence of 'shifting baselines': where humans lose track of even large changes to their environment, such as the loss of a top predator like the baiji. "'Shifting baseline syndrome' is a social phenomenon whereby communities can forget about changes to the state of the environment during the recent past, if older community members don't talk to younger people about different species or ecological conditions that used to occur in their local region," Turvey explains. "These shifts in community perception typically mean that the true level of human impact on the environment is underestimated, or even not appreciated at all, since the original environmental 'baseline' has been forgotten." In other words, a community today may see an ecosystem as 'pristine' or 'complete', which their grandparents would view as hopelessly degraded. In turn what the current generation sees as a degraded environment, the next generation will see as 'natural'. The shifting baseline theory is relatively new—first appearing in 1995—and so it has not been widely examined in the field.
[Read more stories about: bird collapse, ecosystem interrelationships, hunting to extinction, endangered list]

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'Doc Michael says:
How handy! The extinctions are just a figment of our memories.

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