Field of Science

Any useless species?

A question sent to the Guardian's answer board: Are there any genuinely pointless species in the world which, if they were extinct, would have no material impact on the food chain or general homeostatis? Surely no one would miss wasps, for example. 
A quick glance through the comments provided no good answers in TPP's view, so here goes.
What a pointless anthropocentric perspective you have!  Species aren't there for humans, although many aren't here any more because of humans, and some have benefited from their interaction with us.  All species interact with some other species.  When a species goes missing, one or more interactions in the great network of being are lost and the fabric of life unravels a little bit more and becomes a tiny bit more fragile whether we would notice this difference or not.  Your question illustrates one of our great problems.  Humans see themselves as apart from nature rather than part of nature, and to place values on nature from just a human-perspective is just wrong.  And, yes, you would probably miss wasps, although probably not directly. 
Any readers want to provide an answer?


Bend said...

Sure, you're right. It is a very human centric to ask "what species could we eradicate without negative consequences for us." But it's still an interesting question, because, as humans, we are understandably more interested in what affects humanity. I would propose that those species that would be least missed would be those with close (both phylogenetically and geographically) relatives that occupy a similar niche. For example, would we really miss grey headed flying foxes when the black headed flying fox could fill in the vacuum pretty quickly?

Bend said...

Also, pigeons. We could do without pigeons. Flying rats-that's what they are. J/K

Jessica M. Budke said...

I completely agree with your comments. Just because the plants or animals around us do not appear "useful" does not mean that they lack value or importance in the broader ecology.

In my mind the organism that we could do without is human centric. How about eliminating bed bugs that specialize on humans? I listened to a program about them recently and found their evolution and ecology super interesting. They evolved from cave dwelling bat bugs, specialize on humans specifically, and do not live outside human inhabited places. Then again I think that we should keep them because they make a great evolutionary story and bed bugs are probably one type of animal that people are actually familiar with to connect them to an evolutionary tale. Yup keep them all!

The Phytophactor said...

Hmm, bedbugs. Yes, you might convince me to get rid of bedbugs. And there have been times that chiggers came real close to damnation too.

mr_subjunctive said...

I would like to nominate the guinea worm. It looks like we're going to find out how essential it is to the ecosystem whether we like it or not,[1] so let's keep our fingers crossed that nobody misses it.


[1] Spoiler: we will like it.