Killing to conserve

I wrote about bees recently. They are dying off, which is not news, but scientists don’t ultimately have a good idea of which species are dying off, or how fast, or where or under what conditions. “My sense is that we don’t actually know where there are declines,” said Gretchen LeBuhn, a biologist at San Francisco State University. With others, she recently devised a relatively inexpensive system to start making these unknowns known, to start a systematic search for answers.

But exposed in the course of writing this article was a rift within the conservation community that I didn’t previously know about: must we kill off animals — in this case, bees — in order to learn more about them? (Particularly ironic in the case of animals whose populations are threatened.) The debate seems to burn rather hot, and there is no easy resolution.

Knowledge is never free. What it costs is an interesting question.