Due to rapid changes in the availability of habitats and global climate, a team of researchers from the Arizona State University (ASU) say that new ID methods may be needed to ensure the survival of numerous endangered species from around the world.

Current ID methods used to catalogue and document population numbers of both established and newly discovered species can be very tedious, time consuming and labor intensive. Scientists working in the field often have to scour different locations to find and collect actual physical specimens just to confirm the existence of rare and threatened animals in the wild. Due to rapid changes in ecosystems all over the world, there may be a pressing need to improve upon existing ID methods.

"We are drawing attention to this issue as an important question bearing on the ethical responsibilities of field biologists," said ASU School of Life Sciences conservation expert Ben Minteer. "It concerns not only an increased extinction threat to re-discovered species, but also the collection of specimens from small populations more generally."

The ASU researchers along with scientists from the UK's Plymouth University are suggesting the implementation of certain changes to the current specimen collection system used to document information about species in the wild. Since live specimens are collected, conservation experts are growing increasingly concerned regarding the possible negative side effects the collection of "voucher" specimens may have in certain species with very small populations in the wild. The current system may actually further threaten certain species hovering on the brink of extinction. Minteer and his colleagues aired their concerns at the latest issue of Science.

"Because these populations are very small and often isolated, they are incredibly sensitive to over-collecting," Minteer said. "Combine the understandable impulse to confirm something really important - such as that a species is not, in fact, extinct - with the sensitivity of a population to collection and you've got a potentially significant conservation issue."

To improve the current identification system, the ASU researchers recommended making use of modern techniques that can be used to document and confirm the populations of threatened animals in the wild without having the kill, overtly disturb the animals. The team called for the use of audio recordings of animal calls as well as the use of high-resolution camera equipment in lieu of using "voucher" specimens. Other procedures recommended by the team also include DNA sampling using swabs or taking small biological samples such as skin or fur to keep the conservation efforts from disrupting animal activities too much.

"The time to change is now," said Minteer. "While we use amphibians as an example in this article, the negative effects of collecting samples from endangered animal populations is a concern that applies across taxa and around the world. The argument that 'this is how we've always done it' is not good enough. Especially in the case of rediscovered species, avoiding 're-extinction' should be the primary ethical constraint of any scientific effort to verify a species' welcome return from the dead."

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