Hillary Rosner, the winner in the magazine category for a piece in Wired, considered some of the consequences of a rogue fish population. She described what happened when a few pupfish from a different species managed to infiltrate a refuge designed to preserve the endangered Devil's Hole pupfish in the Mojave Desert. The possible response to the invasion, she found, goes against conventional thinking on how to protect an endangered species.
Rosner thanked her editors for "seeing the promise in this story, which deals with some of the serious issues — both biological and philosophical — facing the future of conservation."
When a few pupfish from a different species managed to infiltrate a refuge designed to preserve the endangered Devil's Hole pupfish in the Mojave Desert, the invaders quickly spread their DNA throughout the captive population. Within about five years, every fish in the pool was descended from the invaders, who gave their offspring telltale genes and an extra set of fins. Wildlife officials moved all the hybrids to a hatchery, but one evolutionary biologist recognized that the influx of new genes was correcting a glut of defective DNA that accumulates in a small population. That suggested the endangered fish could be saved by allowing hybridization to proceed, but that would go against the old conservation approach that called for fencing off swaths of wilderness and stepping aside. In the new order, Rosner wrote, "we'd be the stewards not just of land or wildlife but of individual chromosomes."
Through great storytelling and use of language, Rosner "explains a fascinating topic — what is a species and how does that impact what we should and shouldn't do to save it," said judge Sarah Zielinski, a freelance science writer who also works for Science News. Freelancer Guy Gugliotta said Rosner's story "bears on the future of life on the planet. Should species be allowed to die if they cannot be saved as evolution has decreed?" Rosner won the AAAS Kavli award in 2010 in the small newspaper category.