Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Rewilding Australia

Joanne Draper

The proposed rewilding of Tasmanian devils on the mainland jumps a time gap of about 1750 generations, has no clear understanding of what caused devils to go extinct in the first place, and returns no lost function that hasn’t already been made up by other species. Credit: Joanne Draper

By Allen Greer

Are there ecological benefits behind proposals to return Tasmanian devils to the mainland and dingoes to south-eastern Australia, or is “rewilding” simply “biological control” rebranded?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A current controversy in Australian conservation biology is the introduction of one or more species to help “manage” an ecosystem “naturally,” continuously and cheaply instead of artificially, episodically and expensively – as with human management. In Australia, advocates of “rewilding” have proposed introducing native species, exotic species and even extinct species.

Although rewilding proponents usually talk in terms of species, their primary concern is “lost” ecological functions caused by species extinctions. Functions of the greatest interest are those delivered by species with a big role in ecosystems. These so-called “keystone” species are often large predators or herbivores.

However, any one predator or herbivore delivers only a small subset of all predation and herbivore services. It is important, therefore, to scrutinise rewilding proposals for the precise functions thought to be lost and the evidence that the species proposed for rewilding can provide them.

Rewilding proposals are least problematic when they seek to replace a function delivered by a recently extinct local population by translocating individuals of the same species from a still-extant population.

The benchmark for rewilding is the introduction of grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 to replace the population eradicated in 1926. The primary lost...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.