Rewilding (conservation biology)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A wildlife crossing structure on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park, Canada. Wildlife-friendly overpasses and underpasses have helped restore connectivity in the landscape for wolves, bears, elk, and other species.

Rewilding is large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species. Rewilding projects may require ecological restoration, particularly to restore connectivity between fragmented protected areas, and reintroduction of predators where extirpated.


The word "rewilding" was coined by conservationist and activist Dave Foreman, one of the founders of the group Earth First! who went on to help establish both the Wildlands Project (now the Wildlands Network) and the Rewilding Institute.[1] The term first occurred in print in 1990.[2] The concept was further defined and expanded by conservation biologists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss in a paper published in 1998.[3] According to Soulé and Noss, rewilding is a conservation method based on "cores, corridors, and carnivores."[4] The concepts of cores, corridors, and carnivores were further expanded upon in Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks, (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1999), edited by Soulé and John Terborgh. Dave Foreman subsequently wrote the first full-length exegesis of rewilding as a conservation strategy in Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century (Island Press, 2004).[5]


As a method to preserve intact, functional ecosystems and stem biodiversity loss, rewilding is based on recent scientific breakthroughs in the field of island biogeography and discoveries concerning the ecological importance of large carnivores.[6] The publication of The Theory of Island Biogeography, by Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson in 1967 established the importance of considering the size and isolation of existing or proposed protected areas: The theory suggested that small, isolated protected areas were vulnerable to extinctions. The theory was firmly established following the publication of William D. Newmark's study of extinctions in national parks in North America.[7]

MacArthur and Wilson's book launched a period of intense debate over how conservation could best be accomplished, as described in David Quammen's popular history, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction.[8][9] With the creation of the Society for Conservation Biology in 1985, conservationists began to focus on finding solutions to the problems of habitat loss and fragmentation.[10] Increasingly, both at the grassroots level and in the programs of international non-governmental conservation organizations, those solutions involved rewilding.

Major rewilding projects[edit]

Between 800 and 1150 wild koniks live in the Oostvaardersplassen, a 56 km² rewilding project in the Netherlands

Rewilding has been incorporated into plans and projects implemented by both grassroots groups and major international conservation organizations. These projects aim to protect and restore large-scale core wilderness areas, corridors (or connectivity) between them, and apex predators, carnivores, or keystone species (species which interact strongly with the environment, such as elephant and beaver).[11] Since the publication of that foundational paper, rewilding projects have been launched around the world: They include corridor projects, such as the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in North America (also known as Y2Y) and the European Green Belt, built along the former Iron Curtain; transboundary projects, including those in southern Africa funded by the Peace Parks Foundation; community-conservation projects, such as the wildlife conservancies of Namibia and Kenya; and projects organized around ecological restoration, including Gondwana Link, regrowing native bush in a hotspot of endemism in southwest Australia, and the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, restoring dry tropical forest and rainforest in Costa Rica.[12] These and other projects are described in Caroline Fraser's Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan Books, 2009). European Wildlife, established in 2008, is currently advocating establishment of a „European Centre of Biodiversity“ at the German–Austrian–Czech borders.

Another major North American rewilding effort focused on restoring the prairie grasslands of the Great Plains is described in Richard Manning's Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape.[13] Manning describes how the American Prairie Foundation is reintroducing bison on private land in the Missouri Breaks region of north-central Montana, with the aim of creating a prairie preserve larger than Yellowstone National Park.[14]

Projects in Europe[edit]

Pleistocene rewilding[edit]

Pleistocene rewilding was proposed by the Brazilian ecologist Mauro Galetti in 2004 in an article "Parks of the Pleistocene: recreating the cerrado and the Pantanal with megafauna" where he suggest the introduction of elephants (and other analogs of extinct megafauna) from circus and zoo to private lands in the Brazilian cerrado. Latter by Paul S. Martin, in his book, Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (University of California Press, 2005). Noting that much of the original megafauna of North America—including mammoths, ground sloths, and sabre-toothed cats—became extinct after the arrival of Homo sapiens on the continent, Martin proposed reintroducing large mammals such as African and Asian elephants, in order to restore ecological balance that was lost.[20]

A controversial 2005 editorial in Nature, signed by a number of conservation biologists, took up the argument, urging that elephants, lions, and cheetahs could be reintroduced in protected areas in the Great Plains.[21] The Bolson tortoise, discovered in 1959 in Durango, Mexico, was the first species proposed for this restoration effort, and in 2006 the species was reintroduced to two ranches in New Mexico owned by media mogul Ted Turner. The argument has been proposed first by a Brazilian ecologist, Mauro Galetti but because it was published in a Brazilian journal.[22]

In 1988, researcher Sergey A. Zimov created a Pleistocene Park in northeastern Siberia to test the possibility of restoring a full range of grazers and predators and thus restore the so-called "mammoth ecosystem."[23] Yakutian horses, reindeer, snow sheep, elk and moose were reintroduced, and reintroduction is also planned for yak, bactrian camels, red deer, and Siberian tigers. The wood bison, a close relative of the ancient bison that died out in Siberia 1000 or 2000 years ago is also an important species for the ecology of Siberia. In 2006, 30 bison calves were flown from Edmonton, Alberta to Yakutsk; they are currently in the government-run reserve of Ust'-Buotama.

Pleistocene rewilding remains controversial: A recent letter published in Conservation Biology accuses the Pleistocene camp of promoting "Frankenstein ecosystems," noting that "the biggest problem is not the possibility of failing to restore lost interactions, but rather the risk of getting new, unwanted interactions instead."[24] The authors proposed that—rather than trying to restore a lost megafauna—conservationists should dedicate themselves to restoring existing species to their original habitats.

In 2012, Elizabeth Kolbert, an environmental journalist at The New Yorker, reported on the reintroduction of Heck cattle, intended as an grazing replacement for the extinct aurochs, on reclaimed land in the Netherlands in "Recall of the Wild."[25] The article discusses the origins of Heck cattle (a breed that originated with the Nazis) and the controversies sparked by Pleistocene rewilding; it describes "model rewilding areas" envisioned and supported by the group Rewilding Europe, founded in 2009.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Caroline Fraser, Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009), p. 356.
  2. ^ Jennifer Foote, "Trying to Take Back the Planet," Newsweek, 5 February 1990.
  3. ^ Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, "Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation," Wild Earth 8 (Fall 1998) 19-28.
  4. ^ Soule and Noss, "Rewilding and Biodiversity," p. 22.
  5. ^ See Dave Foreman, Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2004).
  6. ^ For more on the importance of predators, see William Stolzenburg, Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008).
  7. ^ William D. Newmark, "A Land-Bridge Island Perspective on Mammalian Extinctions in Western North American Parks," Nature 325 (29 January 1987): 432.
  8. ^ See Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson, The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967).
  9. ^ David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
  10. ^ Quammen, Song of the Dodo, pp. 443-446.
  11. ^ Fraser, Rewilding the World, pp. 9-11.
  12. ^ Rewilding the World, pp. 32-35, 79-84, 119-128, 203-240, 326-330, 303-312.
  13. ^ Richard Manning, Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).
  14. ^ Manning, Rewilding the West, pp. 187-199.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Rewilding Europe: The comeback of the European icon. article, 8 November 2012. Accessed on 23 April 2013.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Bison return to Germany after 300 year absence.
  20. ^ Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 209.
  21. ^ Josh Donlan, et al., "Re-wilding North America," Nature 436 (18 Aug. 2005): 913-914.
  22. ^
  23. ^ Sergey A. Zimov, "Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoth's Ecosystem," Science 308 (6 May 2005) no. 5723: 796 - 798.
  24. ^ Luiz G. R. Oliveira-Santos and Fernando A. S. Fernandez, "Pleistocene Rewilding, Frankenstein Ecosystems, and an Alternative Conservation Agenda," Conservation Biology 24: 4.
  25. ^ Elizabeth Kolbert, "Dept. of Ecology: Recall of the Wild," The New Yorker, December 24 & 31, 2012, pp. 50-60.

External links[edit]