Trade-offs between passive and trophic rewilding for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Tanentzap, Andrew J.; Daykin, Georgia; Fennell, Thea; Hearne, Ella; Wilkinson, Matthew; Carey, Peter D.; Woodcock, Ben A.; Heard, Matthew S.. 2023 Trade-offs between passive and trophic rewilding for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Biological Conservation, 281, 110005. 10, pp.

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Trophic rewilding that reintroduces large animals into landscapes to re-establish food web interactions and restore biodiverse ecosystems has gained widespread attention. Despite this attention, few empirical studies have assessed the effectiveness of trophic rewilding for promoting biodiversity and its wider ecological benefits. Here we tested if trophic rewilding that introduced functional analogues for extinct large herbivores into former farmland of lowland England delivered additional benefits to biodiversity and ecosystems functioning. We predicted that these benefits would exceed those achieved through passive rewilding, that is, unassisted habitat succession after the cessation of agricultural activity. Using a 9-year exclosure experiment, we found trophic rewilding reduced woody plant diversity and total carbon storage by 73% and 23%, respectively, compared to passive rewilding plots that excluded mammalian herbivores. However, trophic rewilding likely increased plant diversity and carbon storage compared to if land was left under continued agricultural production, e.g. artificial pastures associated with intensive livestock production. The vegetation changes accompanying trophic rewilding were further linked to a greater diversity and biomass of ground-dwelling arthropods by 21% and 167%, respectively, relative to passive rewilding, partly by creating more structurally complex vegetation. Given the trade-offs in biodiversity and ecosystem functions between trophic and passive rewilding, our study highlights that trophic rewilding will need to be applied alongside other interventions to tackle biodiversity loss while combatting climate change. Ultimately, the utility of trophic rewilding as a restoration tool will depend on the conservation outcomes valued by society.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0006-3207
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: agri-environment, conservation, large herbivores, restoration, trophic interactions
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 28 Mar 2023 16:43 +0 (UTC)

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