Abstract: Discourse around assisted colonization focuses on the ecological risks, costs, and uncertainties associated with the practice, as well as on its technical feasibility and alternative approaches to it. Nevertheless, the ethical underpinnings of the case for assisted colonization are claims about the value of species. A complete discussion of assisted colonization needs to include assessment of these claims. For each type of value that species are thought to possess it is necessary to determine whether it is plausible that species possess the type of value and, if so, to what extent their possessing it justifies assisted colonization. I conducted such an assessment for each of the predominant types of value ascribed to species: ecological, instrumental (including option value), existence, and intrinsic value (including interest-based, objective, and valuer-dependent intrinsic value). The vast majority of species, including several that have been proposed as candidates for assisted colonization, have much less value than is often presumed. Moreover, with respect to some types of value, assisted colonization would not fully preserve the value of the target species even if it were to keep the target species in existence. Therefore, the case for assisted colonization is significantly weaker and more qualified than its advocates often suppose. There may be exceptional species for which assisted colonization is well justified—and for this reason, case-by-case assessment is necessary—but in general the burden of justification generated by the ecological risks associated with assisted colonization is not met by the value potentially preserved by assisted colonization. This suggests that assisted colonization ought to have, at most, a very minor role in the portfolio of ecosystem management practices, even as it pertains to species conservation under conditions of rapid climate change.
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