A Database of the World's Recently Extinct Species: Plants, Animals and Fungi
This website attempts to document the world's many recently extinct (i.e. Late Pleistocene-Holocene) and rediscovered species and subspecies. An impossible task given that many of these have no doubt gone extinct without ever being recorded by science. As evidenced by the many putatively extinct taxa known only from the type collection. While many others are so little known that there is scarcerly anything to document now, and so in a secondary sense are lost as well. Luckily it is possible for us to discover and learn more about them serendipitously, through the discovery of fossil and subfossil remains. As well as discover or rediscover specimens in museums and private collections. Moreover, grouping such organisms by taxonomy allows us to detect taxonomic bias evident in recent extinctions, when juxtaposed with those equivalent taxonomic units that are empty of such organisms, and quantifying the relative proportions of taxa that are (possibly) extinct in each. Though caution must be eased as it is important to understand that there can be other reasons for apparent taxonomic bias in extinctions, such as an unbiased extinction threat affecting a sympatric adaptive radiation (e.g. Lake Victoria cichlids, Lake Lanao cyprinids, etc.).
Thankfully we can also rediscover 'extinct' species and subspecies as living individuals, and study them to hopefully prevent them from continuing to decline. As well as understand extinction threats better. But tragically even then we do not always heed nature's warning (e.g. the Desert rat-kangaroo, Caloprymnus campestris). But such cases of rediscovery, along with other instances of 'extinction' being overturned or refuted, raise important questions. Was it truly missing in the first place? Was it prematurely declared extinct? Or are the criteria for declarations of extinction too stringent? Or was it taxonomically rediscovered via a new synonymy? Or was it due to miscommunication and/or false assumptions between/by individuals/groups?
It is for this and other reasons that it is important to delve into historical conservation biology, as well as the philosophy of conservation biology. Thus this website does not merely represent current beliefs about the current conservation status of relevant taxa. In one sense it does less, since I am only an individual and do not possess the knowledge that humanity as a whole possesses. But in another sense it does more, since it helps to tell the story of historical conservation biology through the many other database entries that provide us with important lessons. For example, many supposedly extinct bird species have turned out to be individual hybrids (especially hummingbirds). Given the fact that conservation is underfunded as it is, it is crucial to make sure that monies and resources are being directed at real species in real danger. And not spent looking for, and trying to conserve, what never existed.
Most importantly this website tries to downplay cloning and the potential for "de-extinction" that it brings. Talk of technological advances that will more than likely end in complacency rather than real results. Beyond the fact already stated, that most species and subspecies have gone extinct without ever having been recorded let alone collected, in many cases we possess no genetic material from most populations. The methods of preservation of museum specimens are not necessarily conducive to the preservation of DNA. And even if we do possess DNA, it is often fragmented. And even if it is complete we almost certainly lack the necessary genetic diversity to bring back a viable population of formerly extinct organisms. Moreover, the loss of genetic diversity in living populations means that we will certainly be driving species to extinction long after we ourselves have become extinct. As they fail to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
And finally, this website offers a window into the newest house of mass extinction currently under construction. Whose structure was designed by the architects of the current biodiversity crisis: us humans. Built upon a foundation consisting of the innate vulnerability of populations, particularly those that are small or isolated, to fatal declines. We are in the midst of a global problem, an extinction rate far above abnormal. While the inevitable loss of all biodiversity in a temporally distant supernova does not render the current biodiversity crisis any less anachronistic.