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Ecological consequences and opportunities of rewilding in a European anthropogenic context

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning

Rewilding is a relatively new ecological restoration strategy providing an alternative to the established
conservation strategies as it aims to restore ecological processes to promote ecosystems that maintain
biodiversity with little or no human intervention. Rewilding initiatives are emerging across Europe and cover
a diverse set of conservation initiatives. Despite the increasing number of rewilding initiatives, scientific
evidence of the ecological consequences is rare, which inspired my PhD.
Based on a thorough evaluation and synthesis of the rewilding literature, we find in Paper I
that trophic cascades may be restored through species reintroductions and ecological replacements. We
therefore propose the concept of trophic rewilding. Further, we learn that the empirical research on rewilding
is scarce, fragmented and geographically biased and that opinionated literature is dominating. Mapping the
current megafauna deficit suggests that rewilding has a global relevancy. Consequently, we highlight the
need for: 1) applied rewilding programs including scientific evaluation, 2) research on trophic complexity
and anthropogenic effects and 3) developing a framework for species selection.
From surveys of opinions and rewilding-inspired initiatives in Denmark, we find in Paper II
that existing rewilding-inspired initiatives are diverse, that the majority of people engaged in Danish nature
management wish to implement rewilding despite the highly anthropogenic context and that scientists and
managers largely agree on most rewilding issues. We learned about potential rewilding areas, potential
rewilding species and challenges for implementing rewilding. We also identified an urgent need to provide
managers with more information on what rewilding encompasses and how it can be operationalized.
In Paper III, we have developed a conceptual framework called TRAAIL - Trophic
Rewilding Advancement in Anthropogenic Impacted Landscapes, enabling practitioners to categorize
existing rewilding initiatives while also providing suggestions for possible management interventions in
order to obtain a higher degree of self-regulation. By applying TRAAIL, we find that rewilding-inspired
efforts are moderately implemented in Danish conservation management- a surprisingly high degree.
Based on observational studies, we report in Paper IV that the European bison herd
reintroduced to Vorup meadows had comparable diurnal activity patterns as reported for free-roaming bison
herds in the Bialowieza Forest. Further, we find that bison primarily use the high-lying drier areas and have
no preference for open areas over tree covered areas, but spent significantly more time in the release area
than in the meadow. We therefore conclude that bison behave “naturally” but that the setup of the release
area and the management protocols accomplished here seem to compromise the conservation goals.
In Paper V, we find that the different habitats in the bison enclosure become more meadowlike
over time and that establishing new species were significantly more moisture-tolerant than the
disappearing species. We also find that the unmown part of the meadow was characterized by heterogenous
vegetation structure, whereas the vegetation in the mown part was short and homogenous. Further, we find
indications that European bison might reduce woody encroachment and promote forbs.
Bidragets oversatte titelØkologiske konsekvenser og muligheder af rewilding i en Europæisk antropogen kontekst
ForlagAarhus universitet
Antal sider215
StatusUdgivet - okt. 2018

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