Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation
Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation 2017;15:245-7 DOI: 10.1016/j.pecon.2017.10.002
Editorial – Rewilding South American Landscapes
Challenges and opportunities for rewilding South American landscapes
Mauro Galettia,b,
a Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Instituto de Biociências, Departamento de Ecologia, 13506-900 Rio Claro, Brazil
b Aarhus University, Section for Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Meredith Root-Bernsteina,b,c
a Aarhus University, Section for Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
b UMR Sciences pour l’Action et le Développement* Activités* Produits* Territoires* INRA* AgroParisTech* Université Paris-Saclay, F 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
c Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Santiago, Chile
Jens-Christian Svenninga,b
a Aarhus University, Section for Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
b Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World (BIOCHANGE), Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Received 19 October 2017

The rampant extinction of many animal species caused by human interventions has led many conservation biologists to propose the creation of large protected parks, and the listing and protection of rare and threatened species. The setting aside of spaces and species are the two main classical approaches of biological conservation. Each serves a compositionalist view, such that some components (species) are protected everywhere, and all components (species) are protected in some places (Jepson, 2016). Species protection focuses on population levels, and space protection focuses on species composition maintained within that space. Although these strategies have been important for deterring species extinction, there is an increasing necessity to restore not only the components, but the functional interactions between the components of those ecosystems (Valiente-Banuet et al., 2015).

Most of the world's ecosystems are impoverished, missing globally or locally extinct species, particularly large bodied vertebrates (Dirzo et al., 2014; Faurby and Svenning, 2015; Ceballos et al., 2017). We still know little about the ecological and evolutionary consequences of megafauna extinction (Galetti et al., 2017).

One strategy to revert the loss of functionality of natural ecosystems is to re-introduce former extinct species (reintroduction or refaunation), to introduce ecological analogues (rewilding) or even try to revive extinct species (de-extinction) (Table 1). The term rewilding has faced much controversy primarily because of an early focus on the goal of recovering Pleistocene ecosystems (Galetti, 2004; Donlan, 2005; Zimov, 2005; Donlan, 2005). Rewilding, however, goes beyond restoring ecosystems to how they were in the Pleistocene. The science of rewilding today has much broader implications. There has been a call to focus research on understanding top-down trophic interaction dynamics of reintroducing species (“trophic rewilding”) to fulfil lost ecological processes (Svenning et al., 2016; Galetti et al., 2017). Top-down trophic and associated bottom-up trophic as well as non-trophic impacts, such as disturbance, nutrient cycling, or seed dispersal, have become lost or reduced due to historic and prehistoric defaunation and constitute important impacts of many keystone and ecosystem engineering species (Doughty et al., 2016a,b).

Table 1.

Definitions and a time sequence of terms used in animal restoration.

Year  Concept  Author 
1832 (1987)  Reintroduction is the intentional release a species into part of its native range from which it has become extirpated in historic times as a result of human activities or natural catastrophe  Wilson (1832) 
1987  Reinforcement is addition of new individuals to a small population  IUCN (1998) 
1991  Defaunation is the functional, local or global extinction of species or populations of animals  Dirzo and Miranda (1991) 
1992  Empty forest is a state of a natural community (forest) with no or few large mammals and large birds  Redford (1992) 
1998  Rewilding is the restoration of large areas based on regulatory roles of large predators  Soulé and Noss (1998) 
2004/2005  Pleistocene Parks is management strategy to introduce extant herbivores (domestic or wild) that could function as ecological analogue of extinct Pleistocene megafauna in fenced zones.  Zimov (2005) 
2005  Pleistocene rewilding is the similar of Pleistocene parks in non-fenced zones.  Donlan (2005) 
2010  Refaunation is the restoration of populations of extant species to their original distributions.  Oliveira-Santos and Fernandez (2010) 
2013  De-extinction is the technique to bring back extinct species, such as mammoth, passenger pigeon. It is more focused on species than on ecological processes.  Sherkow and Greely (2013) 
2016  Trophic rewilding is the use of species introductions to restore top-down trophic interactions and associated trophic cascades to promote self-regulating biodiverse ecosystems.  Svenning et al. (2016) 

In Europe, rewilding projects have increased enormously in recent years, especially in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark, but also Eastern and Southern Europe, focusing mainly on the reintroduction of large and medium sized herbivores such as beavers, wild boar, bison, moose, and primitive horse and cattle breeds (e.g., Jepson, 2016). South America, one of the continent most strongly hit by the prehistoric end-Pleistocene-early Holocene megafauna extinctions (Fariña et al., 2013), is still facing rapid Anthropocene defaunation (Jorge et al., 2013). In addition, large parts of South America are experiencing land change and abandonment. These conditions suggest that rewilding has much scope as an approach to biodiversity conservation and land management in South America. Despite the big scope, rewilding projects and debate are still in their infancy in South American contexts.

In this Special Issue, a series of papers, both theoretical and practical, present new information and experiences for the debate of rewilding. Svenning and Faurby (2017) provide historically-informed base-lines for trophic rewilding in the Central and South America and discuss the implications, highlighting the need for a more nuanced view on non-native megafauna species as they may sometimes represent taxon substitutes for missing species, while emphasizing that rewilding should be implemented flexibly and in dialogue with society, e.g., handling human-wildlife conflicts and ensuring benefits for local livelihoods. Following this theoretical discussion, Pires (2017) presented a novel approach on how ecological network model can help in rewilding projects. Another important discussion on rewilding theory is that rewilding is the consideration of particular models of conceiving, implementing and managing rewilding projects that fit the social and cultural realities of the different regions within South America (Root-Bernstein et al., 2017). The various cosmologies, land use practices, traditional resource uses, etc. of indigenous peoples of South America should also be considered in the development of ideas about what rewilding is for, what it aims to achieve, and how it can do this (Root-Bernstein et al., 2017). For the practical point of view, rewilding information has proven to be an effective strategy to restore important ecological processes, particularly in highly fragmented landscapes (Fernandez et al., 2017; Sobral-Souza et al., 2017; Root-Bernstein and Svenning, 2017; Zamboni et al., 2017) and can be important to recover some declining populations (Campos-Silva et al., 2017).

We believe that the information presented in this special issue will bring attention and opportunities for rewilding South American landscapes, from horses that were an integral part of South American ecosystems for several millions of years and are back again to the Americas (Naundrup and Svenning, 2015; Lundgren et al., 2017) to more easily accepted rewilding projects, such as agouti reintroduction (Fernandez et al., 2017), or even top predators (Zamboni et al., 2017), to more audacious rewilding projects with megafauna in fenced parks (Galetti, 2004). Trophic rewilding has the potential to become important strategy for biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration in South America. The research and the experiences from the papers presented here bring important contributions to developing the practice and science of trophic rewilding in this region as well as more generally.


We want to thank all reviewers and authors that could make this special issue possible. M.G. and J.-C.S. thank the Aarhus University Research Foundation for a guest researcher grant to sponsor M.G. at Aarhus University. J.-C.S. considers this work a contribution to his Carlsberg Foundation Semper Ardens project MegaPast2Future (CF16-0005) and to his VILLUM Investigator project ‘Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World’ funded by VILLUM FONDEN. MG is also funded by CNPq and FAPESP.

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G. Ceballos,P.R. Ehrlich,R. Dirzo
Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 114 (2017), pp. E6089-E6096
Campos-Silva et al., 2017
J.V. Campos-Silva,C.A. Peres,A.P. Antunes,J. Valsecchi,J. Pezzuti
Community-based population recovery of overexploited Amazonian wildlife
Perspect. Ecol. Conserv., 15 (2017), pp. 266-270
Dirzo and Miranda, 1991
R. Dirzo,A. Miranda
Altered patterns of herbivory and diversity in the forest understory: a case study of the possible consequences of contemporary defaunation
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Dirzo et al., 2014
R. Dirzo,H.S. Young,M. Galetti,G. Ceballos,N.J. Isaac,B. Collen
Defaunation in the Anthropocene
Donlan, 2005
J. Donlan
Re-wilding north America
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Doughty et al., 2016a
C.E. Doughty,J. Roman,S. Faurby,A. Wolf,A. Haque,E.S. Bakker,Y. Malhi,J.B. Dunning Jr.,J.C. Svenning
Global nutrient transport in a world of giants
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R.A. Fariña,S.F. Vizcaíno,G. De Iuliis
Megafauna: Giant Beasts of Pleistocene South America
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S. Faurby,J.C. Svenning
Historic and prehistoric human-driven extinctions have reshaped global mammal diversity patterns
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Rewilding the Atlantic Forest: restoring the fauna and ecological interactions of a protected area
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Galetti, 2004
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Parks of the Pleistocene: recreating the cerrado and the Pantanal with megafauna
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M. Galetti,A.S. Pires,P.H. Brancalion,F.A. Fernandez
Reversing defaunation by trophic rewilding in empty forests
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Ecological and evolutionary legacy of megafauna extinctions
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IUCN Guidelines for Re-introductions
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Jepson, 2016
P. Jepson
A rewilding agenda for Europe: creating a network of experimental reserves
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M.L.S.P. Jorge,M. Galetti,M.C. Ribeiro,K.M.P.M.B. Ferraz
Mammal defaunation as surrogate of trophic cascades in a biodiversity hotspot
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Lundgren et al., 2017
E.J. Lundgren,D. Ramp,W.J. Ripple,A.D. Wallach
Introduced megafauna are rewilding the Anthropocene
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Naundrup and Svenning, 2015
P.J. Naundrup,J.-C. Svenning
A geographic assessment of the global scope for rewilding with wild-living horses (Equus ferus)
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L.G.R. Oliveira-Santos,F.A.S. Fernandez
Pleistocene rewilding, Frankenstein ecosystems, and an alternative conservation agenda
Pires, 2017
M.R. Pires
Rewilding ecological communities and rewiring ecological networks
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Redford, 1992
K.H. Redford
The empty forest
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Root-Bernstein et al., 2017
M. Root-Bernstein,M. Galetti,R.J. Ladle
Rewilding South America: ten key questions
Perspect. Ecol. Conserv., 15 (2017), pp. 271-281
Root-Bernstein and Svenning, 2017
M. Root-Bernstein,J.C. Svenning
Restoring connectivity between fragmented woodlands in Chile with a reintroduced mobile link species
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Sherkow and Greely, 2013
J.S. Sherkow,H.T. Greely
What if extinction is not forever?
Sobral-Souza et al., 2017
T. Sobral-Souza,L. Lautenschlager,T.Q. Morcatty,C. Bello,D. Hansen,M. Galetti
Rewilding of defaunated Atlantic Forests with tortoises to restore lost seed dispersal functions
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Soulé and Noss, 1998
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Rewilding and biodiversity: complementary goals for continental conservation
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Svenning and Faurby, 2017
J.-C. Svenning,S. Faurby
Prehistoric and historic rewilidng in the Neotropics
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Wilson, 1832
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Zamboni et al., 2017
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A review of multispecies reintroduction to restore a large ecosystem: the Iberá Rewilding program
Perspect. Ecol. Conserv., 15 (2017), pp. 248-256
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Pleistocene park: return of the mammoth's ecosystem
Science, 308 (2005), pp. 796-798
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