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10 Things Humans have Saved from Extinction

Kate Wan . . . Comments

As humans, we are a paradoxical animal. Our history has been punctuated by scientific discoveries, allowing us to advance and improve the way we live. Simultaneously, we use these very same wonderful breakthroughs to inflict needless pain. Aptly, we call this ‘human nature.’ With all the bad press we give each other, we often lose sight of the good we are capable of. An increasing cultural focus on environmentalism has emphasized the many wonderful forms of life which we have carelessly wiped out. To help bring us back down to Earth, here are ten animals and plants who owe their continued existence entirely to humanity.

10

Head Lice

Headlice

The common head louse is only able to survive on humans. Many parasites are species specific – we often forget that when one creature goes extinct, so too do dozens of parasites which are species specific to it. Nevertheless, of all the many human-specific parasites, head lice are of interest as they are one of the few from which we benefit. A childhood infestation by head lice, although irritating, is a harmless affair. However, especially in places with poor sanitation, head lice boost natural immunity to the more dangerous body louse which transmits a number of harmful and potentially deadly diseases. Modern civilization has all but destroyed the need for the benefits of head lice, but those who live in poverty still benefit from this natural immunization. As a species, therefore, head lice still help us, and they in turn cannot survive without humans to live on. Although we may not have intended it, simply by continuing to exist we have allowed this species to survive, and even today people benefit from it.

9

Avocados

Avocado

Many plants rely on animals for seed disposal. The plant covers its seeds with a tasty coating, coaxing hungry animals to eat it and defecate the seeds later on, complete with their own patch of fertilizer. This not only ensures the seeds have good nourishment, but also helps distribute the plant over a wide area. The humble avocado evolved thusly. However, as an avocado seed is comparable in size to a chicken’s egg, one must ask: what kind of animal could possibly pass an avocado seed through its digestive tract? Humans are relatively big animals, and yet the exit for food in our stomachs is only 2mm across. It follows that the animals which were large enough to pass an avocado seed were tremendously larger. These megafauna became extinct about 12,000 years ago. The avocado might have also gone extinct with them were it not for the hungry and industrious peoples of Central America, who carefully propagated the plant themselves by hand. Although unnatural, avocados have survived this way for thousands of years. Most are entirely dependent on H. sapiens for their continued survival. Were humans to stop growing them, avocados would lose their only means of propagation, and perish soon after.


8

Hamsters

Funny Hamsters Picture 52

Early last century, a zoologist captured several strange and rare rodents in Syria. These had been described a century earlier and were named Syrian hamsters, or golden hamsters. Among them was only one female. Sightings of hamsters decreased after these were captured and they were believed to be extinct in the wild. After studying them and breeding them for several generations to increase their population, a number escaped while the others became the ancestors of today’s pets. Every golden hamster today can be genetically traced to the single female that was caught long ago, and all findings so far indicate that the many wild golden hamsters in Israel are also descended from the original escapees. Were it not for the actions of one biologist, both domestic and wild hamsters would not exist at all.

7

Ginkgos

Notchedleaves

Long ago, legend says, a Chinese Emperor planted a particular type of tree he was fond of in the Imperial Garden. The royal gardeners helped the tree flourish and it was enjoyed for many lifetimes, as its species typically lives for over half a millennium. Its seeds were used to carefully grow its many progeny. Centuries later, this tree, the ginkgo, had long been considered extinct in the rest of the world, and was studied through fossil records only. As China began to open to the West, it became apparent that the tree known only from imprints in rocks several millions of years old was in fact flourishing thanks to the fondness of an ancient emperor. Today, Ginkgo biloba trees are found around the world, but can be traced genetically to a single tree, or possibly a small group of trees, from nearly 3,000 years ago in China.

6

Silkworms

A Silkworm

Bombyx mori, the silkworm, is entirely dependent on humans for the propagation of its species. Despite their name, they are not a worm at all, but actually a larva or caterpillar. Their cocoons are made of silk, which is of great use to humans. They have been bred and used for silk for over five thousand years, during which time their wild counterparts have gradually and naturally ceased to exist. Those which are bred for silk are helpless and even after undergoing metamorphosis, cannot fly or eat. Their wings have become vestigial and their mouthparts are too small for them to use unless carefully fed by a specialist. Worse, as a result of domestication, they have no fear of predators, and so cannot survive in the wild. They must be physically brought together by handlers to mate. Despite this, silkworms enjoy a pampered life due largely to the fact that healthy and well-fed silkworms produce the best silk.

5

Bermuda Petrels

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This rare bird lives on the island of Bermuda. When the island was visited by Europeans, the many rats, dogs, and other animals brought along all but wiped out the bird. For over three hundred years, the Bermuda petrel was thought to be extinct. In 1951, 18 birds were unexpectedly discovered nesting on the coast, and were immediately put under legal protection. Even in an ideal situation, any species reduced to a mere 18 members has a bleak and unlikely future. The nests were isolated from the rest of the island with walls to prevent other wildlife interfering with the precarious situation, and the careful creation of more nest sites by conservation workers has helped this species steadily increase in number over the years. Volunteers rushed to save the birds at considerable risk to themselves during a hurricane in 2003, and many destroyed nest sites were rebuilt for the birds, who would have perished if left to fend for themselves during the disaster. There are now about 250 Bermuda petrels. With the continued care and work by humans, the Bermuda petrel may again one day number in the thousands.


4

Jellyfish Trees

Jellyfish

This tree is named after the center of its flowers, which resemble jellyfish tentacles. It was thought to be extinct until late last century; since then, it exists only in a few small, tentative populations which are carefully guarded in national parks in Seychelles. It is an ancient plant which is poorly adapted to today’s climate. The population has dwindled naturally for thousands of years due to natural changes in the Earth’s climate, although it has persisted to the point that three trees were found to still be struggling to survive in 1970. These are now protected by law and botanists toil to understand how to help it. Its seeds cannot germinate in the wild, and only under very humid conditions have humans been able to purposefully sprout them. Today the population has risen to fifty, but this tree is sadly poorly adapted both to the modern climate and without constant human intervention it cannot cope with competition from its better-adapted peers.

3

European Bison

Bison

Like the Bermuda petrel, this is another animal which humans drove to near-extinction. The European bison is the largest land animal in Europe, but was completely annihilated in the wild due to hunting. Although it had been traditionally hunted for its pelt and horns since Palaeolithic times, a modern increase in hunting resulted in a dwindling numbers. Soldiers in the First World War hunted them by the hundreds for their meat, despite being fully aware of their endangered status, and the last wild European bison were shot in 1927. Fortunately, several remained in zoos and menageries. These immediately caught the attention of the German biologist Heinz Heck. Heck proposed that since modern animals contain the genes of their extinct ancestors, they could be purposefully bred to produce their long-gone forebears. As ancient animals, Heck did not want to see European bison die out. He helped breed them from only twelve individuals to over 4,000 today, which have been reintroduced into the wild. Unfortunately, due to their small genetic pool, the species is highly susceptible to a number of diseases and the fertility of the males is gradually decreasing, so they still require human help to stave off extinction.


2

Wollemi Pines

Woolemipine1

Although not a true pine tree, this plant was known only through fossil records from millions of years ago. Unexpectedly, in 1994 a park officer happened to notice one while walking in the Wollemi National Park in Australia. It was quickly realized that this tree was a living fossil, and that although not extinct, it very nearly was. Fewer than one hundred individual trees were left, and many of these were sick, dying, or unable to reproduce. Mathematical models have confirmed that without human intervention, this species would have been truly extinct in less than a millennium. A recovery program now legally protects the tree, and many thousands have been successfully cultivated. They have more recently been promoted throughout New South Wales, Australia, as a more local alternative to Christmas trees; the Wollemi pines are kept potted throughout the festival and are planted at its conclusion.

1

Mongolian Wild Horses

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Most wild horses today are feral descendants of domesticated ancestors. However, the Mongolian wild horse has never been domesticated and is the only remaining truly wild horse on Earth. Ancient cave paintings show that humans hunted these creatures as far back as 20,000 years ago. However, since then the climate has naturally warmed as we move into an interglacial period. This has caused their habitat to shrink and the horses have had a decreasing population for millennia. After the Second World War, all wild Mongolian wild horses died indirectly due to wartime habitat destruction or directly through being hunted for food by desperate German soldiers. The existing zoo populations also diminished, and by 1945 only 31 horses remained. Of these, 9 were able to be bred and we have carefully brought their population up to 1800 today. Of these, 300 have been reintroduced to nature reserves in Mongolia and China at the places where they were last seen in the wild. They are now fastidiously protected and the species is expected to recover.

+

Thylacine

Thylacine

Although there are many species which humans have created over the years (notably most hundreds of domestic creatures), there are few which have actually died out that we can bring back. The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, is an example of one such animal. It was the largest living carnivorous marsupial and had gone extinct several thousand years ago everywhere in Australia except on the island state of Tasmania. Its numbers were there still falling, due to disease and the gradual extinction of its usual prey species, when European settlers arrived. Their hunting and domestic dogs accelerated the decline of the thylacine. The last one died in a zoo in 1930. However, preserved specimens contain enough DNA that scientists are confident the animal may one day be revived. With the advancement of human technology, in the future we may be able to bring back this unique animal. Nothing could be more human than to advance our own species so that we may help another.



  • Bungalow

    Really some of these things are better off dead…

    • Alan G

      What’s wrong with avocados? They’re delicious with a bit of chicken… Actually it’s pretty cool that we stopped them going extinct. I just thought the giant stone was annoying, but it turns out the whole thing would have died out because of it if it werent for us. That’s kind of cool.

    • inconspicuousdetective

      such as?

      • Ni99a

        Spiders, mosquitoes, trolls, HIV virus……

        • PoorMe

          Spider controls the house fly and other insects that grow and can spray through the waste produced by humans. Housefly are important to spray the decomposing bacteria that decompose the wastes to the ground. Mosquito are good pollinator (only the female mosquito bite warm blooded creatures) to get protein for the eggs but mosquito’s primary food is nectar. Sorry to say but I would say HIV, malaria and other disease checks the population not only of the human being but also other animals (this might sound cruel but it is true no offense).

          • Ni99a

            Frogs and bats substitutes spider.

            Mosquitoes can be substituted by any insect that eat fruits.

            HIV and malaria can be substituted by YOLO shouts.

            Animal population control can be handled by animals’ own diseases.

            So what is your point really?

          • zgillet

            So we’d be better off if we could still get Polio?

        • inconspicuousdetective

          why spiders? i happen to like them….mosquitoes i can see sorta, but they’re food for other things. trolls…hmm then what would become of you? HIV does indeed control human populations and probably the fear of transmitting it prevents so unwanted pregnancies…

          • inconspicuousdetective

            *some not so

    • Missy

      Especially head lice and hamsters.
      Not really my favourite.

  • PoorMe

    90% of human body cells are microbes which save human beings from extinction. Every organism has a purpose in the ecosystem if that was not true then it would get extinct.

    • Meh

      So the microbes purpose is to serve us? It’d make me feel important and superior and all that if it weren’t for the fact that every other animal probablly has the same thing going on. Somewhere there is a microbe whose entire life is devoted to keeping a stupid yappy chihuahua alive.

      • PoorMe

        Symbiosis —- win win process. It helps you and your body helps it. If It weren’t for these microbes then you wouldn’t have got the ability to digest food. Chihuahua is human creation due to selective breeding because human needed a dog breed satisfying it’s description so, it is also important to ecosystem but for it’s survival on it’s own I doubt. Nature is very cruel.

        • Meh

          Wait, so… the chihuahua probably doesn’t have it’s own unique microbes because it was bred by us rather than occurring naturally? Huh. I guess since they’re a recent type of animal, then microbes might not have had enough time to evolve specifically to it. I guess they just get general old dog microbes. That kind of sucks for the annoying little things. At lease we are special in a weird kind of way. They don’t even get specific microbes for themselves.

          • inconspicuousdetective

            i’m thinking you’re missing the point “meh”…and that the important part of what he said is the second half of his first post…so lay off the microbes.

          • PoorMe

            Chihuahua has bacteria that live in guts and some other organs. Evolution is a gradual process and bacteria has very short time and rapid reproduction rate which makes it more adaptable to the stimulus.

          • Maggot

            I guess since they’re a recent type of animal, then microbes might not have had enough time to evolve specifically to it. I guess they just get general old dog microbes.

            Time alone does not cause an organism to evolve, there has to be an advantage gained via a mutation that would favor its ongoing survival into something new. Chihuahuas are still canines (canines in general being not exactly “recent”) so yes, they have “general old dog microbes”. There is no reason for the various microbes within the canine digestive system to evolve separately among the different man-made variations (aka breeds) of domestic canines.

    • I saw an infographic recently that quoted a number for what percentage of our body weight is bacteria. I don’t remember the number, but it was enough to make me reconsider yogurt for dessert that day.

      • PoorMe

        Only yogurt sometimes I am afraid of breathing because I know fungus attacking human body which spreads through tiny spores in the air. Human body is very fragile, hope someday we could come up with something that allows us to reduce these vulnerabilities.

        • zgillet

          Want to know how to reduce your vulnerabilities? Don’t be so clean, and you gain immunity.

      • lawn

        Were it not for all your bacteria buddies you wouldn’t last long.

    • stockyzeus

      >90% of human body cells are microbes

      say it out loud until that statement starts to make sense and then feel bad for saying such a retarded thing.

  • greggy

    Awesome list. It’s nice to think about the good stuff humans have done every once in a while instead of getting obsessed with how terrible we can be. A great motivator. Here’s to bringing back the thylacine!

  • Great list. Although Most people are probably horrified at the possibility, I would be interested to see the result of trying to produce an extinct animal from a DNA sample.

    I remember reading somewhere that it was possible to clone dead pets from DNA samples, so it shouldn’t be too far off.

    • Eric

      We’ve been cloning for ages, but the problem is the length of DNA. It gets shorter as you age, and when it gets too short you get old agey-problems like demensia and stuff. So if you clone a 15-year-old dog, you’ll get a puppy with DNA that’s way shorter than usual, and it’ll die of alzheimers or something before ever seeing old age. Dolly the sheep, for example, only lived a few years. Once we work out how to lengthen the DNA again, we’re set. ALthough at the moment the only ways we know how tend to end up causing cancer in the thing we’re cloning, so we have a few kinks to work out.

      It’d be great if we could bring back animals humans ahve extincted, to try to make up for it a teensy bit. More ancient things would be fantastic to learn about in the flesh, too. Hopefully it’ll be possible in our lifetimes.

      • oak

        as long as we consult with jeff goldblum first

        • Dr. Ian Malcolm

          LOL gotta watch that Chaos Theory

      • Dogmatix

        Imagine if you could have the exact same pet over and over again…. like Dumbledore and Fawkes lol

        • Sister Morphine

          lol i call my dog Miss Dumbledore because she’s D-U-M dumb. SO cute though :)

      • Mobbin

        wow!!! thats some interesting stuff! definitely gonna look into this cloning stuff.

  • Will Trame

    Not a bad list; very informative.

    • moxie2012

      What is wrong with the Admin and Mods on this site? Both my screennames – flippant, moxie2012 – are registered. I don’t see the point of people registering when you continuously let people clone members. You know my emails, you know my IP, and yet you allow this to continue. It’s just hopeless. O_o

      The most annoying part is that this cretin who insists on masquerading as me, under both names, has completely shîthouse grammar and punctuation.. ugh. >:(

  • THE LISTVERSE READER

    Interesting list!

  • FennecuS

    I thought i’d see the Kakapo on this list:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakapo

    It’s an amazing animal and though still very endangered, their numbers are rising

  • Pippa

    Great interest shown in this list. If this lack of concern continues, Listverse will be extinct like GOP and Tea Party lunatics.
    At this point, I truly hope Listverse stays around for a long time!

    • theItalian

      Nonsense statement. This is indicative of the level of discourse on Listverse.

      • The Trader

        Somebody has had a MSNBC overload. Brain stupified. Move along with your herd.

        • Pippa

          Your
          Magic
          Underware
          is
          Made in China!

          • The Trader

            Media parrot.

      • Pippa

        2 much spaghetti for the brains turns 2 one fat noodle, meatball!

        • The Trader

          Your idiocy is disgusting.

          • Pippa

            The Trader:
            YOU ARE A MOR(m)ON!

          • The Trader

            Negative…silly nerd.

  • Pippa

    Thank you for an informative list.

  • Definitely one of my favourite and most educational lists that I have read! Loved the bits about avocados, hamsters, silk worms and mongolian wild horses. Super awesome.

  • Bama Bhai

    Listverse has very good articles but it has the most dumbest community on the internet, except for youtube maybe.

    • Ni99a

      I agree, they act like they are high class people. They are always saying, humanity is a lost cause or some sh1t like that.

      Then at any slightest human good act, they will say, “Faith in humanity restored”. They never realized humanity never depended on their faith anyway.

    • SamsterHamster

      “Most dumbest”? Well, at least you proved your point.

      • The Trader

        Have a look at Cracked.com.

    • Missy

      Does that include yourself, Bama Bhai?

  • honkster7

    so an avocado fruit can’t drop off a branch , rot on the ground or be eaten

    away by animals/insects exposing the seed and propagate ? so how did those

    pesky avocado saplings spring up next to my friends avocado tree ?

    • oak

      on average propagating avocado seeds takes a bit more effort than just shoving it in the dirt. if your friend is getting avocado saplings popping up around their tree they should consider themselves lucky, and should get to transplanting

      • tree

        Plus the fact that any avocados can sprout after falling off the tree at all is due to the thousands of years of breeding they’ve gone through. Avocados are a lot more awesome than we give them credit for.

  • Ni99a

    Its good to see that we humans can control nature.

  • Santa

    I wouldn’t mind a Wollemi Pine Christmas tree this year :)

    • Don’t Stop Believing

      … Santa? Is it… is it really you?

      Can I have a thylacine for Christmas please?

  • Paradox

    Sometimes, with all the bad things we do, it’s hard to remember the good that we’ve done too.

  • mongz

    i like this list. :) always fascinated w/ these kinds of topic- creates awareness that we are not the only creatures living on this planet.

  • Noodles

    I’m a longtime reader and a first time commenter. This is the best list I’ve seen on the site in quite a while. I found it very informative and very interesting. Nice to be reminded of the good we’ve done (intentionally or not) for other creatures.

    • ni99a

      I shall take this opportunity to troll your first ever comment here.

      Go make your own gen1tals enter your own posterior.

  • oouchan

    Nice to see what we did save instead of the long list of things we didn’t. Although head lice is not what I would consider a good save.

    Good list.

  • Eicg

    Good list! Thank you!

  • WilfredfromAus

    Unfortunately the thylacine breeding thing was ruled out several years ago. It cane about because it was hoped that some unborn pups, preserved in alcohol rather than more destructive formalin, might yield viable DNA, but those hopes proved futil . The thylacine is gone forever, sadly.

    • moxie2012

      My exact thoughts. The Tassie tiger most certainly doesn’t belong on this list, much less in first position.

      Humans haven’t “saved it from extinction” and never will.. all humans did was cause its extinction.

      • milo

        They ruled it out based on the preserved baby one, but they reopened the case, so to speak, a few years later. It wasn’t as publicised. Now they think based on all museum specimens or at least a lot, they have enough dna to represent the entire genome. We just need to develop our technology further so its viable to combine then and clone. So like it says, maybe one day. There’s still hope.

        • moxie2012

          That may be the case, Milo. But, given the title of this list, my point still stands.

          Regardless of what we can (or can’t) do in the future, the thylacine has not been “saved from extinction” by humans. If we’re going to go by what technologies may develop in the future, then dinosaurs may as well be on the list too.

          Until such a time as the Tassie tiger is no longer extinct, only then it can be said that humans have saved it from extinction.

          • jimmy

            I think that’s why it was a bonus and not in the actual list.

  • Good list. Especially love the pic of Mongolian Wild Horses. It is always good to know that we are at least saving some species (willingly/unwillingly).

    I am surprised that many people think that the extinction of various species is a natural phenomena and has nothing to do with our interference with the nature. True, species get extinct regularly, but the extinction level has increased exponentially due to human influence in the last few years.

    I can guess where this hate comes from. PETA etc. has made this issue a political one and ironically given bad publicity to the concept of conservation of flora and fauna.

    Those of you who are interested to read a good book about endangered species which is quiet handy could try “Last Chance to See” by Douglas Adams (Yes, that Douglas Adams). It is a non-fiction book and although written more than two decades ago, it still resonates with today’s predicaments regarding wild life. And to top it off, you get to read it with a typical Adam’s flair.

    • acer panthera

      I’ll be checking that out, thanks.

    • Steve

      What Douglas Adams?

      And I have read the book.

  • Andrew

    Nice list! Had no idea that avocados were that close to dying out!

  • Engelbrecht

    “the exit for food in our stomachs is only 2mm across” …I find that a little hard to believe, considering the fact that I have passed watermelon seeds at least 1/4 inch (or 6 mm) in size, and numerous other larger items. Children swallow coins and pass them without any trouble. Maybe it’s closer to 2 cm ?

    • milo

      Watermelon seeds are thinner than 2mm sideways. It’s all about how you orientate things. If they were 6mm and spherical, then you’d have problems.

      • moxie2012

        When I was a kid, I had a thing for swallowing cherry pips and plum seeds. Either I’ve now got a belly full of fruit seeds or they passed through no problems.

        I.. shudder.. to.. think. 8o

  • Hestie

    What a GREAT list! I loved it! Very informative and totally out of the ordinary.

  • Great list, and wonderful to learn about my favorite fruit, the Avocado! Love to put it into the context of the extinctions humans caused in North American megafauna.

    If you’re going to add on the Thylacine, how about giving a shoutout to the Quagga as well? There’s a possibility to recreate them from their skins or by back-breeding from akin Zebra species.

  • CJB

    There are STILL other things we can keep from going extinct. I am shamelessly going to mention the vaquita marina, or the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, that could very well die out as did the Yangtze River dolphin a few years ago. There are maybe 150 of these rare cetaceans left in the world, and their extinction is preventable. PLEASE visit http://www.vivavaquita.org for more information. Thanks for listening.

  • Ev

    Almost wiping out an entire species and then leaving only a few of their kind is not ‘saving’ them from extinction. That’s like cutting off all the limbs of another man and not killing him would ‘saving his life’.

    • WhatUDidThar

      I like how you pretended to miss the overall point of the whole list. Nice one.

  • george wallace

    What about the franklin tree? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklinia

  • george wallace

    What about the Franklin tree? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklinia

  • Me

    So tell me how do we exactly benefit from the human head louse?

    • Gan

      If you read the first entry, it tells you. Basically, they give us immunity to the potentially deadly body louse.

      • Me

        Oh ok sorry it was a little…vague the first time I read it.

  • Pippa

    You’re a Mor(m)on!

  • Brandon

    OD

  • whitey

    its a shame we have kept niggers and jews from going extinct. we almost had em….

  • just kidding haha

  • Casey

    I used to pretend to be a thylacine as a little girl, after I saw a photo of one at my grandmother’s house. I had forgotton until this list, thanks for bringing that memory back :)

    • D’aww

      That is adorable :)

  • Raynor

    Excellent and refreshing list. Great concept and a nice starting point. I’m off to wiki to look up more. The author is right, with all the bad news, you never are even aware that there are things we’ve saved. Can’t wait to find out some other ones.

  • brian

    we kill hundreds of species and spared a dozen…hurrah for us

  • brian

    The author praises humans for saving these species, however without humans most of them wouldnt have been in trouble in the first place. Not exactly a reason to pat ourselves on the back

    • Brain

      2 out of the 10 on this list had their extinction accelerated (it is clearly stated that they were already on the way out) by us. That’s hardly ‘most’.

      Also, if you read the intro, it says that these aren’t even close to the only ones we’ve saved. And the point of the entire list, which it also seems you’ve missed, is to show what good we can do as a motivator to save more. As opposed to falling into the easy mindset of ‘oh, we suck, no point trying to do good.’ You illustrated that mindset beautifully.

  • yeeahmate

    what about Sheep?

  • JAX

    So the mongolian horse is no more wild, it is domesticated as well

  • Mabel

    Is it really a good thing to bring back some of these species? Consider the debate on cloning a mammoth. Even if we were able to do it, what kind of a life would this animal have? It would have no herd, and no habitat, something at least the wild horses DO have. Basically, it would just be a an unhappy curiosity interned in a zoo or research setting. The research would be flawed in any case, since scientists would not be able to study the animal in its natural state. Lab results are often very different from field results. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.