Boltus ineptus leaps out from the office desk to pounce on the dodo

Not only does Andrew Bolt demonstrate overwhelming ignorance on climate science (yet the right to be highly opinionated on the subject), but he’s come out fighting against the Golden Sun Moth, Synemon plana, in a show of outrageous naivety of biology and ecology. In an article titled, Why save an animal just begging for extinction, Bolt builds a case as relevant as Laframboise’s paper of ’69 to argue against the current scientific understanding and governance practices.

Let’s start with his major argument for allowing extinction: the dodo.

The dodo, Raphus cucullatus, (NOT Didus ineptus) was not the only slow, flightless local to become extinct following the introduction of humans and their domestic entourage. You could include the obviously less famous tortoises, Cylindraspis intepta and  Cylindraspis triserrata. (Janoo, 2005). As Hume (2006) correctly states, there is far more myth than accurate recording of the species and thus many conclusions drawn about the behaviour of the dodo can at best, be regarded as fable. To regard the bird as stupid is as informed as most of what Bolt’s science is (arguably Didus ineptus himself?).

I believe Bolt is right when he says that there isn’t even the slightest gap in his life in the absence of the dodo. The same cannot be said about the Tambalacoque tree, Sideroxylon grandiflorum, which seems to have relied on its seeds passing through the dodo’s digestive tract to remove the protective seed coat for propagation (Temple, 1977 and, Catling, 2001). As much as 60% of crops rely on natural pollination, not to mention the vast amount of soil conditioning and pest control and other services provided by the local ecosystem (Traill et al. 2010). Bolt would not feel a gap in his life if an important pollinator disappeared in South America, but I’m sure the locals would feel an increasing gap in their gut where food used to be. His argument just demonstrates just how low his concern for others is.

Are moths pollinators? There is a lot of evidence that moth species have co-evolved to have complex relationships with plant species, including that they can be major pollinators (see Kephart et al. 2006).

Is the Golden Sun Moth an important pollinator? The Victorian Dept. of Sustainability and Environment say that the species is relatively unstudied, but it’s distribution has greatly reduced. We don’t know how important the species is, but we know it’s disappearing. It appears where new developments are planned not because it’s employed by Greenpeace, Andrew, but because it used to have a fairly vast range. I don’t feel sorry for the “schmuck” who was planning a new factory where this moth is found. As many court cases have made clear and  the movie The Castle placed a comical edge to; we don’t like being told where to live. Why the hell should we expect less from other species?

Nope... too ugly.. kill it...? Hmmmm...

What is probably the most feeble attacks on the dodo and  Golden Sun Moth is when Bolt tries to label them as inept and unattractive. I’m sure to many of our own species and others, Bolt himself is not so attractive, which really doesn’t say much anyway and as for both species apparent short coming, what does that even mean? The dodo, as mentioned above, might have been flightless but provided various services to its ecosystem most notably seed treatment and dispersal of the Tambalacoque tree (Temple, 1977 and, Catling, 2001), which in term supports various other species and both the tree and the dodo would have played a role in soil conditioning. The moth doesn’t have a mouth? Many moths and butterflies don’t, or at least don’t use them. The adult stage is usually relatively short and all about procreation. Most of the interesting stuff, and the bulk of ecological services, are when the animal is probably in it’s ugliest state (and generally longest lived state), the larval stage.

I hope I don’t need to do so, but if required, I’m willing to write post regarding interspecies relationships to further argue why ecosystem manage is not as simplistic as Mr. Bolt would have you believe. That said, I’m not, as I’m sure most of my readers are aware of, “a tree-hugging hippy”, a “hairshirt green” or, in Bolt’s words, a “defender in the Don’t-Touch-Nature movement”. I believe that prosperity is strongly related to ecological health and sustainability. Species management must be focused towards useful ecological function and long term resilience and not, Andrew, towards whether or not the species is aesthetic.

As I’ve made clear recently with Laframboise, Nova and now Bolt, I’m continuously amazed at the irresponsibility of pop-media which allows such obvious misinformation to be published and spread among the community. Bolt, for instance, has been previously been sued for inaccurately reporting of events relating to Magistrate Jelena Popovic, in which he and the Herald Sun had to pay damages (see Mike’s write up regarding this here). Yet he continues to report inaccurately on subjects he obviously knows nothing about – and this goes on, largely ignored or at best is seen as a faceless victim. I am absolutely appalled by what should be our window into the greater events of the world. Instead, it’s “ineptus” sensational rubbish.

Temple, S. A. (1977) Plant-Animal Mutualism: Coevolution with Dodo Leads to Near Extinction of Plant. Science. 197(4306): 885-886.
Catling, P. M. (2001) Extinction and the importance of history and dependence in conservation. Biodiversity. 2(3): 2-13
Janoo, A. (2005) Discovery of isolated dodo bones [Raphus cucullatus (L.), Aves, Columbiformes] from Mauritius caves shelter highlights human predation, with a comment on the status of the family Raphidae Wetmore, 1930. Annales de Paléontologie. doi:10.1016/j.annpal.2004.12.002
Hume, J. P. (2006) The history of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the penguin of Mauritius. Historical Biology. 18(2): 65-89. doi: 10.1080/08912960600639400
Kephart, S., Reynolds, R. J., Rutter, M. T., Fernster C. B., and, Dudash, M. R. (2006) Pollination and seed predation by moths on silene and allied Caryophyllaceae: evaluating a model system to study the evolution of mutualisms. New Phytologist. 169: 667-680.
Traill, L. W., Lim, M. L. M., Sodhi, N. S., and, Bradshaw, C. J. A. (2010) Mechanisms driving change: altered species interactions and ecosystem function through global warming. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01695.x