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Domestic livestock and rewilding: Are they mutually exclusive?
journal contributionposted on 05.10.2021, 23:52 by Iain GordonIain Gordon, Adrian D Manning, Laetitia M Navarro, Julia Rouet-Leduc
Human influence extends across the globe, from the tallest mountains to the deep bottom of the oceans. There is a growing call for nature to be protected from the negative impacts of human activity (particularly intensive agriculture); so-called “land sparing”. A relatively new approach is “rewilding”, defined as the restoration of self-sustaining and complex ecosystems, with interlinked ecological processes that promote and support one another while minimising or gradually reducing human intervention. The key theoretical basis of rewilding is to return ecosystems to a “natural” or “self-willed” state with trophic complexity, dispersal (and connectivity) and stochastic disturbance in place. However, this is constrained by context-specific factors whereby it may not be possible to restore the native species that formed part of the trophic structure of the ecosystem if they are extinct (e.g., mammoths, Mammuthus spp., aurochs, Bos primigenius); and, populations/communities of native herbivores/predators may not be able to survive or be acceptable to the public in small scale rewilding projects close to areas of high human density. Therefore, the restoration of natural trophic complexity and disturbance regimes within rewilding projects requires careful consideration if the broader conservation needs of society are to be met. In some circumstances, managers will require a more flexible deliberate approach to intervening in rewilding projects using the range of tools in their toolbox (e.g., controlled burning regimes; using domestic livestock to replicate the impacts of extinct herbivore species), even if this is only in the early stages of the rewilding process. If this approach is adopted, then larger areas can be given over to conservation, because of the potential broader benefits to society from these spaces and the engagement of farmers in practises that are closer to their traditions. We provide examples, primarily European, where domestic and semi-domestic livestock are used by managers as part of their rewilding toolbox. Here managers have looked at the broader phenotype of livestock species as to their suitability in different rewilding systems. We assess whether there are ways of using livestock in these systems for conservation, economic (e.g., branded or certified livestock products) and cultural gains.