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Rewilding complex ecosystems

Rapid global change is creating fundamental challenges for the persistence of natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. Conservation efforts aimed at the protection of landscapes have had mixed success, and there is an increasing awareness that the long-term protection of biodiversity requires inclusion of flexible restoration along with protection. Rewilding is one such approach that has been both promoted and criticized in recent years. Proponents emphasize the potential of rewilding to tap opportunities for restoration while creating benefits for both ecosystems and societies. Critics discuss the lack of a consistent definition of rewilding and insufficient knowledge about its potential outcomes. Other criticisms arise from the mistaken notion that rewilding actions are planned without considering societal acceptability and benefits. This study presents a framework for rewilding actions that can serve as a guideline for researchers and managers. The framework is applicable to a variety of rewilding approaches, ranging from passive to trophic rewilding, and aims to promote beneficial interactions between society and nature. The concept of rewilding has evolved from its initial emphasis on protecting large, connected areas for large carnivore conservation to a process-oriented, dynamic approach. On the basis of concepts from resilience and complexity theory of social-ecological systems, we identify trophic complexity, stochastic disturbances, and dispersal as three critical components of natural ecosystem dynamics. We propose that the restoration of these processes, and their interactions, can lead to increased self-sustainability of ecosystems and should be at the core of rewilding actions. Building on these concepts, we develop a framework to design and evaluate rewilding plans. Alongside ecological restoration goals, our framework emphasizes people's perceptions and experiences of wildness and the regulating and material contributions from restoring nature. These societal aspects are important outcomes and may be critical factors for the success of rewilding initiatives (see the figure). We further identify current societal constraints on rewilding and suggest actions to mitigate them. The concept of rewilding challenges us to rethink the way we manage nature and to broaden our vision about how nature will respond to changes that society brings, both intentionally and unintentionally. The effects of rewilding actions will be specific to each ecosystem, and thus a deep understanding of the processes that shape ecosystems is critical to anticipate these effects and to take appropriate management actions. In addition, the decision of whether a rewilding approach is desirable should consider stakeholders' needs and expectations. To this end, structured restoration planning—based on participatory processes involving researchers, managers, and stakeholders—that includes monitoring and adaptive management can be used. With the recent designation of 2021–2030 as the "decade of ecosystem restoration" by the United Nations General Assembly, policy- and decision-makers could push rewilding topics to the forefront of discussions about how to reach post-2020 biodiversity goals. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es Perino et al (2019) Rewilding complex ecosystems. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aav5570

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6438/eaav5570


https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6438/eaav5570
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