Moving Animals To New Habitats: New Avenues for Wildlife Restoration
Wildlife restoration can be a long and arduous process; it is often not a simple matter of just restoring species that have been lost in one way or another, but about protecting or restoring their habitats so that threatened species can live and recover within them. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a major contributor to wildlife suffering, and as global climate systems are further disrupted and human activity continues to grow, some species are being pushed increasingly to the margins.
Certain conventional wisdom on wildlife restoration has held that managing threatened species is about creating zones of protection, and letting species try to thrive (again) within those zones; this is an idea that holds fairly well in many circumstances, but there can be instances when actually moving species to more suitable habitats may have a better overall effect, for example, with animals who are “dispersal-limited” and do not have ranges which would facilitate them spreading to new locations. This study in particular, advocates:
[I]ncorporating translocations of dispersal-limited animals into mainstream environmental management, focusing on […] urban and agricultural areas. By seeding highly modified landscapes with recruits of locally-extirpated animals, wildlife restoration is a proactive scheme to maintain ecosystem function and avert future declines while providing opportunities for local people to engage with nature, thereby building environmental literacy in the wider community.
In particular, the scientists here also note that “rather than being the sole prevail of rare species or protected areas,” animal translocations can be useful in the process of natural recolonization of wildlife, when the natural process is “too slow or patchy.”
To demonstrate this, the scientists use a checkerboard model to show how occupied and unoccupied squares are not simply static, but change over time, depending on the species. While sedentary species might show a more stable pattern, species with larger ranges or migratory patterns will change more often. An important thing to note is that, through time, “an increasing proportion of unoccupied patches may contain all the resources required by a species —- all that is missing are recruits.” If this is the case, rather than focusing on the most rare or charismatic species, common species that are locally abundant but have limited dispersal can be translocated with great results, which can increase the overall health of the ecosystem for all species.
Studies like this show wildlife advocates that, when it comes to wildlife restoration, there is never just one approach that will be successful across all contexts. Of course, we should note that species translocation is not the first choice and is likely something that should not be attempted by advocates with no experience. However, the overall lesson here that restoration ecology is quickly moving in a direction that is less reactive to one that is more proactive. According to the researchers, “the ongoing success of revegetation initiatives has demonstrated the great willingness of landholders to repopulate their gardens, neighbourhoods and production-dominated properties with the plants that used to grow there—why not give them the opportunity to put some of the animals back as well?” It is a great question, and one that should have wildlife advocates talking.