Thursday, May 31, 2007

Extinction Versus Extirpation

Extinction is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English language. In the context of conservation biology and ecology, extinction literally means the death of a species throughout its range (and I supposed that it could also be correctly used to describe the loss of a subspecies). Extirpation is properly the loss of a local or regional population, with the species continuing to survive elsewhere. I continually see the words extinct or extinction used when what the writer really meant was extirpated or extirpation.

An easy way to remember the distinction between extinction and extirpation:
Extinction is forever.

Extirpation can be reversed.
An example of the misuse of extinct is found in this article about the successful reintroduction of the Golden Eagle to Donegal, Ireland, where it is said to have been “extinct” since 1922. In actuality, the Irish population was extirpated. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagle remained extant and healthy in most of the remainder of its natural range.

Wikipedia does nothing to ameliorate this confusion by referring to extirpation as “local extinction.” It just makes me want to scream!!

2 Comments:

Blogger John said...

The Wikipedia problem might be fixable.

May 31, 2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

That's true, John. It would just take someone with the time and interest to go in and make an edit, but there is always the possibility that the edit will be overuled by one of the Wikipedia overlords. It looks that there was at one time a direct Wikipedia link to an article on "extirpation," but that someone redirected that link a page called "local extinction." Wikipedia politics can be rather daunting at times.

May 31, 2007 3:12 PM  

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