Science for a wilder Anthropocene: Synthesis and future directions for trophic rewilding research
Svenning et al
Trophic rewilding is an ecological restoration strategy that uses species introductions to restore top-down trophic interactions and associated trophic cascades to promote self-regulating biodiverse ecosystems. Given the importance of large animals in trophic cascades and their widespread losses and resulting trophic downgrading, it often focuses on restoring functional megafaunas. Trophic rewilding is increasingly being implemented for conservation, but remains controversial. Here, we provide a synthesis of its current scientific basis, highlighting trophic cascades as the key conceptual framework, discussing the main lessons learned from ongoing rewilding projects, systematically reviewing the current literature, and highlighting unintentional rewilding and spontaneous wildlife comebacks as underused sources of information. Together, these lines of evidence show that trophic cascades may be restored via species reintroductions and ecological replacements. It is clear, however, that megafauna effects may be affected by poorly understood trophic complexity effects and interactions with landscape settings, human activities, and other factors. Unfortunately, empirical research on trophic rewilding is still rare, fragmented, and geographically biased, with the literature dominated by essays and opinion pieces. We highlight the need for applied programs to include hypothesis testing and science-based monitoring, and outline priorities for future research, notably assessing the role of trophic complexity, interplay with landscape settings, land use, and climate change, as well as developing the global scope for rewilding and tools to optimize benefits and reduce human–wildlife conflicts. Finally, we recommend developing a decision framework for species selection, building on functional and phylogenetic information and with attention to the potential contribution from synthetic biology.
Rewilding is a really bad idea, has no data to support it and, at least so far, bad science:
From Pleistocene to trophic rewilding: A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Rubenstein et al
Nearly 10 y ago, we (1) critiqued the idea of Pleistocene rewilding (2), a misguided attempt to resurrect bygone ecosystems. Much has happened to the Earth’s biodiversity over the decade since the term “Pleistocene rewilding” was coined, most of it bad. More than half a billion people have been added to the world’s population, and ecosystems continue to be degraded at an alarming rate. A sixth mass extinction is underway, and poaching of megafauna has increased across sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, one thing that has not happened is any serious attempt to scientifically study Pleistocene rewilding. Despite a number of publicized Pleistocene rewilding projects (Oostvaardersplassen in The Netherlands and Pleistocene Park in Siberia), we have yet to see any quantitative data concerning the impacts of megafauna reintroductions.
Wait! There needs to be a shift from ideology to science for rewilding and it can work!
Reply to Rubenstein and Rubenstein: Time to move on from ideological debates on rewilding
Svenning et al
In their comment (1) on our review and perspective on trophic rewilding science (2), Rubenstein and Rubenstein launch a critique not so much directed at our study as at trophic rewilding as a conservation approach. They first lament that Pleistocene rewilding has not been scientifically studied since the term was introduced. This is much in line with our study, where we conclude that empirical research on trophic rewilding is rare, fragmented, and geographically biased, with the literature dominated by essays and opinion pieces, and follow this up by providing recommendations for research opportunities and priorities. Rubenstein and Rubenstein (1) then claim that we repackage the concept of Pleistocene rewilding (3) under the new term “trophic rewilding,” defined as species introductions to restore top–down trophic interactions and associated trophic cascades to promote self-regulating biodiverse ecosystems (2). However, the two concepts are not identical. Notably, with the name and definition of trophic rewilding we provide emphasis on a clear, testable functional objective rather than on a certain time frame.