Soulé and Noss, 1998

M. Soulé and R. Noss 1998 Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation, Wild Earth. Soulé and Noss present traditional Biodiversity Conservation and Rewilding as two ideas that are both needed to stop the loss of biodiversity.

Traditional biodiversity conservation ‘stresses the representation of vegetation or physical features diversity and the protection of special biotic elements’. ie targeting specific habitats and rare plants and animals for conservation using protected areas and management. Rewilding ‘emphasizes the restoration and protection of big wilderness and wide-ranging, large animals –particularly carnivores’. These approaches are presented as complementary to tackling the extinction crisis.

The paper focuses on North America. It starts by highlighting the loss of wild nature, starting all the way back in the last ice age and continues today. They then lay out 4 key arguments describing how conservationists are making the case for preserving and restoring wild nature. ‘Monumentalism’ was put forward by the founding preservationists a century ago. E.g. John Muir aimed to save places of extraordinary natural beauty. Over time the emphasis morphed in two directions:1) the protection of self-willed nature and the wilderness movement; and, 2) providing recreational opportunities and the creation of the American National Parks.

‘Biological conservation’ emerged in the early 20th century and began highlighting that the National Parks had been placed in the most scenic locations but that these weren’t the most biologically rich places. There was a call for all habitats to be protected. ‘Biological conservation’ began a process of classifying habitat and creating lists of vulnerable species that require conservation. But also highlighting that ecosystems are dynamic and that disturbance regimes are important and operate over large scales. ‘Biological Conservation’ is also home to the ‘umbrella species’ concept which highlights the importance of protecting large animals that need large areas to survive that will also support many other less charismatic plants and animals. ‘Island Biogeography’ and species-area relationship are also fundamental arguments for conserving big wild spaces. These ideas posit that larger and more connected areas support more species than smaller and more isolated ones. They highlight the importance of Newmark’s 1995 paper highlighting higher mammal extinction rates in smaller National Parks in North America. This suggests Island Biogeography also applies to protected area networks.

‘Rewilding’: 1) Large, strictly protected, core reserves (the wild); 2) Connectivity; 3) Keystone species. Summarised as Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores. Large Cores and Corridors taken from Island Biogeography, most of the rewilding discussion is focused on keystones.

Keystone species are: ‘those whose influence on ecosystem function and diversity are disproportionate to their numerical abundance’. These are organisms that are few in number but play big roles in how nature works. ‘Top carnivores are often keystone, but so are species that provide critical resources or that transform landscapes or waterscapes, such as sea otters, beavers, prairie dogs, elephants, gopher tortoises, and cavity-excavating birds.’

The focus on carnivores is because ‘In North America, it is most often the large carnivores that are missing or severely depleted.’ Scientific arguments are also made for focusing on large predators: 1) trophic cascade ecology, where top predators help create more diverse ecosystems; 2) they need large ranges that also help protect smaller species; 3) they need connectivity.

‘In short, the rewilding argument posits that large predators are often instrumental in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems; in turn, the large predators require extensive space and connectivity.’ The rewilding argument is supported by the important role played by large animals in maintaining ecosystems (As was covered in the @SerengetiRules film )

A section is also given over to our moral responsibility to rewild, described as ethical and aesthetic justifications. Humans destroyed the wild so there is an argument for us to restore it. And thereby ensuring large predators (the essence of the wild) also survives.

Importantly, the authors make the argument that traditional biodiversity conservation approaches and rewilding are complimentary: ‘Biodiversity protection plus rewilding equals conservation’. We need a protected area network and conservation strategy that is both representative of nature’s diversity (traditional biodiversity conservation) but also capable of allowing nature to work naturally (rewilding). ie a well designed protected area network will cover all the diversity of biology, geology, and geography as well as consisting of large enough areas, that are well connected and have complex food webs that include big animals so nature can function naturally.

The authors believe that some activists ‘are excessively anxious about the attitudes of certain stakeholders, particularly those with negative perceptions of wolves or other carnivores’. They state ‘A conservation plan cannot give equal weight to biocentric and socioeconomic goals, or the former will never be realized. Biology has to be the “bottom line”.’ This has become a really big point of discussion!

However, the authors also state in the conclusion: ‘Because ecological and cultural contexts differ, local conservationists and biologists are in the best position to develop tactics for recovery of wilderness and ecological values in their regions’. In practice, this means that many grassroots conservation groups will emphasize representation of habitats or special elements in their reserve designs, at least in the preliminary stages. But [the authors believe] it is a mistake to stop there.

They conclude: ‘Biodiversity and rewilding are not competition paradigms; rather, they are complementary strategies. Just as a pure representation approach to conserving nature, if it ignored the issue of long-term viability of wide-ranging keystone species would be unsatisfactory, a pure rewilding approach might miss some ecosystems and special elements, thus sacrificing significant ecological and species diversity.’

I really enjoy going back to this paper. It covers loads of key concepts and important points. It foresaw lots of key arguments. I find it really helpful and challenging in places. But I think the arguments are strong.

If you would like to read the full paper, please click here.

8/30 ‘Biological conservation’ began a process ofclassifying habitats and creating lists of vulnerable species that require conservation. But also highlighting that ecosystems are dynamic and that disturbance regimes are important and operate over large scales.9/30 ‘Biological conservation’ is also home to the ‘umbrella species’ concept which highlights the importance of protecting large animals that need large areas to survive that will also support many other less charismatic plants and animals.10/30 ‘Island Biogeography’ and species area relationship are also fundamental arguments for conserving big wild spaces. These ideas posit that larger and more connected areas support more species than smaller and more isolated ones.11/30 ‘Island Biogeography’. They highlight the importance of Newmark’s 1995 paper highlighting higher mammal extinction rates in smaller National Parks in North America. This suggests Island Biogeography also applies to protected area networks.12/30 ‘Rewilding’: 1) Large, strictly protected, core reserves (the wild); 2) Connectivity; 3) Keystone species. Summarised as Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores. Large Cores and Corridors taken from Island Biogeography, most of the #rewilding discussion is focused on keystones.13/30 Keystone species are: ‘those whose influence on ecosystem function and diversity are disproportionate to their numerical abundance’. These are organisms that are few in number but play big roles in how nature works.14/30 ‘Top carnivores are often keystone, but so are species that provide critical resources or that transform landscapes or waterscapes, such as sea otters, beavers, prairie dogs, elephants, gopher tortoises, and cavity-excavating birds.’15/30The focus on carnivores is because ‘In North America it is most often the large carnivores that are missing or severely depleted.’16/30 3 scientific arguments are also made for focusing on large predators: 1) trophic cascade ecology, where top predatorshelp create more diverse ecosystems; 2) they need large ranges that also help protect smaller species; 3) they need connectivity.17/30 ‘In short, the rewilding argument posits that large predators are often instrumental in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems; in turn, the large predators require extensive space and connectivity.’18/30 The rewilding argument is supported by the important role played by large animals in maintaining ecosystems. As was covered in the @SerengetiRules film, available on the iplayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000b8p4/unlocking-natures-secrets-the-serengeti-rules19/30 A section is also given over to our moral responsibility to rewild, described as ethical and aesthetic justifications. Humans destroyed the wildso there is an argument for us to restore it. And there by ensuring large predators (the essence of the wild) also survives.20/30 Importantly, the authors make the argument that traditional biodiversity conservation approaches and #rewilding are complimentary: ‘Biodiversity protection plus rewilding equals conservation’. 21/30 We need a protected area network and conservation strategy that is both representative of nature’s diversity (traditional biodiversity conservation) but also capable of allowing nature to work naturally (#rewilding). 22/30 ie a well designed protected area network will cover all the diversity of biology, geology, and geography as well as consisting of large enough areas, that are well connected and have complex food webs that include big animals so nature can function naturally.23/30 The authors believe that some activists ‘are excessively anxious about the attitudes of certain stakeholders, particularly those with negative perceptions of wolves or other carnivores’.24/30 They state ‘A conservation plan cannot give equal weight to biocentric and socioeconomic goals, or the former will never be realized. Biology has to be the “bottom line”.’ This has become a really big point of discussion!25/30 However, the authors also state in the conclusion: ‘Because ecological and cultural contexts differ, local conservationists and biologists are in the best position to develop tactics for recovery of wilderness and ecological values in their regions.’26/30 ‘In practice, this means that many grassroots conservation groups will emphasize representation of habitats or special elements in their reserve designs, at least in the preliminary stages. But [the authors believe] it is a mistake to stop there.’27/30 They conclude: ‘Biodiversity and rewilding are not competition paradigms; rather, they are complementary strategies. Just as a pure representation approach to conserving nature, if it ignored the issue of long-term viability of wide-ranging keystone species…28/30 …, would be unsatisfactory, a pure rewilding approach might miss some ecosystems and special elements, thus sacrificing significant ecological and species diversity.’29/30 That is our first paper! Thanks for reading. I really enjoy going back to this paper. It covers loadsof key concepts and important points. It foresaw lots of key arguments. I find it really helpful and challenging in places. But I think the arguments are strong

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