Author and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert discussed species extinction and how individuals are combatting certain climatic changes in a talk sponsored by the University of Michigan Erb Institute as a part of the Purpose to Impact Speaker series on Tuesday night.

Kolbert has published a number of books, including her most recent, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” which details how the Earth is on course for a sixth, unprecedented mass extinction. Kolbert is also known for her pieces in The New Yorker, including a three-part award-winning series about climate change published in 2005.

Though Kolbert has extensively researched the issues she writes about and discusses, she emphasized she does not have the solutions necessary to solve these problems. However, she shared several stories of people around the world fighting extinction.

Kolbert discussed the work of Sam Wasser, the director for the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. Wasser has used the DNA in the feces of the African elephant from around Africa to map out the places of origin of recovered elephant tusks. Through discovering where the tusks originated, Wasser can identify where poaching is taking place most frequently.

“It used to be thought that for these really big seizures of ivory … that poachers were assembling ivory from all over Africa,” Kolbert said. “But (Wasser) has shown that there are just two poaching hotspots: one is at the border of Gabon, Congo and Cameroon … and one is southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.”

Rackham student Alex Truelove said he finds great importance, especially as a student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, in combatting species’ extinction.

“I think everything that she talked about, whether it’s the species extinction, and things that also might affect humans as well (was important),” Truelove said. “I think our future depends very much on the actions we take in regards to these problems.”

As Kolbert continued, she told the story of the American chestnut tree in the United States, once a common tree, especially on the East Coast. The work of William Powell of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project at the State University of New York has genetically modified the American chestnut tree to make it resistant to a disease that nearly wiped the species out beginning at the turn of the 20th century.

“In principle, at least, this is quite at least an amazing result,” Kolbert said. “A fungus that humans brought to the U.S. wiped out the chestnut and now a very clever human has figured out a way to try to revive the chestnut.”

Rackham student Chris Askew-Merwin emphasized how humans ultimately are worse off when they kill off more species. Especially in the Amazon rainforest, he said, humans lose thousands of potential medicines when they kill plants they have never discovered.

“I personally believe that all these animal species have a right to exist and we should do our best to make sure they continue to do so,” Askew-Merwin. “At the same time, but also appeal to everyone’s self-interest because we are better off and healthier with biodiversity.”

A number of non-native species have been introduced to New Zealand starting 500 years ago, Kolbert said. One of the first, the Pacific rat, nearly killed off numerous flightless birds native to New Zealand.

Rabbits were later introduced to New Zealand, and exploded in number, which took a toll on farms on the islands. To combat the rabbit population, stoats, a type of weasel, were introduced. The stoat furthered the population decline of birds on the island instead of the rabbits, leading native New Zealanders to attempt to eradicate the presence of all the non-native mammals on the island.

“So New Zealanders are passionate about their native birds … and they have taken it upon themselves to protect them and since the problem is at least the mammals, the answer they have come up with is to killing a lot of the mammals,” Kolbert said. “It has successfully de-ratted a number of islands.”

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