Induced extinction disrupts natural world

Published March 4, 2016, 9:39 p.m. - 135 views


As a native Minnesotan, I can attest to the state’s collective hatred of mosquitos during our short-lived summer season when we are daily forced to fight off relentless hordes of insects. Despite the irritation, can our loathing of any creature ever truly be enough for us to advocate its complete removal from an ecosystem?
Not currently found in Minnesota, Aedes aegypti, commonly known as the yellow fever mosquito, spreads the dangerous Zika virus through tropical and sub-tropical areas all over the world. Originally from Africa, this type of mosquito has most recently spread to the Western Hemisphere, as far as Brazil and even southern areas of the United States such as Florida and Texas.  
Recently, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the Zika virus as an international public health emergency. The disease is similar to the more well-known dengue and West Nile viruses, also transmitted by mosquitos. The Zika virus poses a particularly large threat to pregnant women, as the virus can be transmitted from the mother of the diseased to the fetus, causing birth defects such as brain damage. Presently, there is not a cure or a vaccination for the Zika virus. 
A plan to eradicate Aedes aegypti was put into action in recent years, but failed due to the highly resilient nature of the mosquitos. This species is able to withstand a variety of fast changing conditions, such as drought and immature egg development. Lack of sufficient financial backing also played a significant role in the the eradication plan’s failure.
However, the project’s failure brings an opportunity all its own: the chance to really contemplate the morality behind its aim. Is it ethical to promote the complete extinction of the species worldwide? I say no. Human induced removal of any species, either by accident or on purpose – regardless of the reasoning – is unjustifiable. 
Current evidence reports that Aedes aegypti is not critical for the survival of any other species and, while I admit that the extinction of this type of mosquito would most likely not bring down an entire ecosystem, it is important to consider the interdependent nature of our planet’s environment. 
It is impossible to truly know all of the potential outcomes of an intentional extinction. While we as a culture are striving to undo human-created environmental issues such as global warming, this plan to purposefully destroy an entire species would be a major setback.
Scientists believe they will soon develop the technology required to put an end to Aedes aegypti, but how much will it cost? How long will it take? Will it affect other species of mosquito? As humans we may be capable of exterminating an entire species, but we do not, and should not possess the complete control of the planet that would allow us to extinct animals at will. It is up to us to preserve our environment in a natural and ethical way. If we can eradicate an entire species, then surely we have the ability to save the lives of humans affected by this virus.  


Katie Opperman ’19 (opperm1@stolaf.edu) is from Stillwater, Minn. She majors in French, sociology and anthropology. 
 

About the Author

Katie Opperman, class of 2019 is a major.

opperm1@gmail.com

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