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Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty‐First Century Conservation

C. Josh Donlan, Joel Berger, Carl E. Bock, Jane H. Bock, David A. Burney, James A. Estes, Dave Foreman, Paul S. Martin, Gary W. Roemer, Felisa A. Smith, Michael E. Soulé and Harry W. Greene
The American Naturalist
Vol. 168, No. 5 (November 2006), pp. 660-681
DOI: 10.1086/508027
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/508027
Page Count: 22
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Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty‐First Century Conservation
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Abstract

Abstract: Large vertebrates are strong interactors in food webs, yet they were lost from most ecosystems after the dispersal of modern humans from Africa and Eurasia. We call for restoration of missing ecological functions and evolutionary potential of lost North American megafauna using extant conspecifics and related taxa. We refer to this restoration as Pleistocene rewilding; it is conceived as carefully managed ecosystem manipulations whereby costs and benefits are objectively addressed on a case‐by‐case and locality‐by‐locality basis. Pleistocene rewilding would deliberately promote large, long‐lived species over pest and weed assemblages, facilitate the persistence and ecological effectiveness of megafauna on a global scale, and broaden the underlying premise of conservation from managing extinction to encompass restoring ecological and evolutionary processes. Pleistocene rewilding can begin immediately with species such as Bolson tortoises and feral horses and continue through the coming decades with elephants and Holarctic lions. Our exemplar taxa would contribute biological, economic, and cultural benefits to North America. Owners of large tracts of private land in the central and western United States could be the first to implement this restoration. Risks of Pleistocene rewilding include the possibility of altered disease ecology and associated human health implications, as well as unexpected ecological and sociopolitical consequences of reintroductions. Establishment of programs to monitor suites of species interactions and their consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem health will be a significant challenge. Secure fencing would be a major economic cost, and social challenges will include acceptance of predation as an overriding natural process and the incorporation of pre‐Columbian ecological frameworks into conservation strategies.

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