Trees and Fish

Sun Nov 4 13:18:59 EST 2001

Dear Craig and others,

With regard to the interchange below, if we are looking at it from the
perspective of ecosystem functioning, the two have the same effect.  The
organism has been removed from the environment: it therefore contributes
no more genes to future generations, the carbon and nutrients contained in
its tissues are not available for recycling, and the structure it provides
in situ has gone.  It is irrelevant that one is dead and one technically
remains alive after removal (notwithstanding the issue of mortality rate
in collecting and shipping live organisms).

Obviously, the amount of biomass is quite different between the two, but
the numbers are reversed in terms of individuals.  Who is to say one is 
more significant than the other?

If the aquarium animal were to be propagated (fragmented or bred), thereby
lessening removal of organisms in the future, it might be said to have a
long-term positive effect on the environment, but that would still not
replace the loss of that individual.  Furniture could have a similar
effect -- if it is made to last, that could diminish harvest of trees in
future.  In fact, it could be argued that the expected "life-time" of the
furniture in a home in Berlin or Ottawa is greater than that of a
particular fish or gorgonian.

This does not address the value to the consumer or to society, including
educational value, which has been the gist of most of the discussion.  But
in terms of the ecosystem itself, it seems to me there is little to choose
between them -- neither is sustainable, as was originally said.

Daphne Fautin

> > It is precisely these arguments that have been used to support "selective"
> > harvesting of tropical hardwoods. The present aquarium live trade, in both
> > fish and inverts, is not sustainable.
> There is a big difference between maintaining a live aquarium fish or
> invertebrate in one's home and having a dead piece of wood in the form of
> furnature in one's home.  The analogy you have made is better with the
> harvest coral skeletons, seahorses and other marine life for the
> manufacture of dead curios, ornaments and medicinal purposes.
> If you want to keep them alive, and everyone who buys a live fish has some
> interest in maintaining it in live condition, then you need to learn some
> biology and chemistry.  If you want to keep a reef aquarium, you are
> absolutely forced to confront many of the same problems that confront
> corals in the wild (eutrophication, disease, calcium carbonate saturation
> state, importance of herbivores, etc.)
> You are required to learn absolutely nothing about hardwood conservation
> issues and issues confronting the survivial of tropical hardwoods by
> having a piece of dead furnature in your home.  Certainly, some
> exceptional individuals *might* be inspired to learn something about
> tropical hardwood conservation when they buy a piece of hardwood
> furnature.  One absolutely *must* learn about issues relevant to the fate
> of reefs when one seeks to maintain a successful reef aquarium.  It is not
> optional.
> Craig

Daphne G. Fautin
Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Curator, Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center
Haworth Hall
University of Kansas
1200 Sunnyside Avenue
Lawrence, Kansas 66045-7534  USA

telephone 1-785-864-3062
fax 1-785-864-5321
for e-mail, please use fautin at

lab web page:

direct to database of hexacorals, including sea anemones, released
                           12 July 2001 
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