16 Sept Yi-Fu Talk – Molecularizing Conservation: Genetics, De-Extinction, and Pristine Nature in the Galápagos Islands

Elizabeth Hennessy
UW-Madison History Department

Genetic science is an increasingly common tool in conservation management that is reshaping understandings of biodiversity and how best to “save” it. In the Galápagos Islands, genetic research has led to the rediscovery of a species of giant tortoise that by all accounts went extinct more than 150 years ago. In this talk, I use the story of these tortoises to examine how one area of conservation genetics—reconstructions of evolutionary history, or phylogenetics—is contributing to a shift in the way pristine nature is understood and managed. Drawing on political ecologies and critical geographies of genetics, I trace the story of these tortoises, which are at the center of a conservation breeding and repatriation program aimed to “re-tortoise” an island with tortoises as genetically close to the original population as possible. I argue that genes are emerging objects of conservation that not only call forth new configurations of knowledge production, but also open new possibilities for managing endangered natures. 

FRIDAY in 180 Science Hall at 3:30.