The Conservation Classics series will soon be collated and published in a special chapter for the book ‘Biodiversity’ to be published later this year by InTech. The chapter is co-authored by Barry Brook, Navjot Sodhi, Bill Laurance and me. This is a snippet of one ‘classic’ I haven’t yet really covered extensively on ConservationBytes.com.
Daniel Pauly’s (1995) concept describes the way that changes to a system are measured against baselines which themselves are often degraded versions of the original state of the system. Pauly (1995) originally meant it in a fisheries context, where “… fisheries scientists sometimes fail to identify the correct ‘baseline’ population size (e.g., how abundant a fish species population was before human exploitation) and thus work with a shifted baseline”. It is now considered a mantra in fisheries and marine science (Jackson et al., 2001), but it has been extended to many other conservation issues. Yet, quantifying shifting baselines in conservation is difficult, with little empirical evidence (but see Jackson et al., 2001), despite the logic and general acceptance of its ubiquity by conservation scientists.
Papworth et al. (2009) have recently addressed this knowledge gap by defining two kinds of shifting baselines:
- general amnesia (“… individuals setting their perceptions from their own experience, and failing to pass their experience on to future generations”) and
- personal amnesia (“… individuals updating their own perception of normality; so that even those who experienced different previous conditions believe that current conditions are the same as past conditions”)
Humans inevitably have short memories when it comes to environmental degradation, suggesting that real-world biodiversity declines are probably far worse than many realize.
Papworth, S., Rist, J., Coad, L., & Milner-Gulland, E. (2009). Evidence for shifting baseline syndrome in conservation Conservation Letters, 2 (2), 93-100 DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2009.00049.x
Pauly, D. (1995). Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 10 (10) DOI: 10.1016/S0169-5347(00)89171-5