News / Science & Technology

    Lost Species' Return Could Trigger Negative Consequences

    Saving Wild Places Triggers Unknown Consequencesi
    X
    Rosanne Skirble
    March 08, 2016 9:35 PM
    Many scientists say the Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. They blame the soaring rate of species loss on global climate change, pollution and habitat loss. In response, some conservationists say introducing new plants and animals or re-introducing old ones will slow the trend. Others fear such "rewilding efforts" will harm the environment in unintended ways. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
    Saving Wild Places Triggers Unknown Consequences
    Rosanne Skirble

    Many scientists say the Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The soaring rate of species loss is blamed largely on us, with climate change, pollution and human encroachment on animal habitat playing roles.

    In response, some conservationists say introducing new plants and animals or reintroducing old ones will slow the trend.

    Now, a new study in the journal Cell Biology warns that such "rewilding efforts" may harm the environment in unintended ways.  

    But that hasn't stopped conservationists from trying. European bison imported from Poland now roam Denmark's Baltic island of Bornholm in places where the animals haven't lived for thousands of years.

    Reindeer are the most numerous animals in Pleistocene Park, where death rates among these species are low. (Credit: Pleistocene Park)
    Reindeer are the most numerous animals in Pleistocene Park, where death rates among these species are low. (Credit: Pleistocene Park)

    Rewilding is also playing out on a nature preserve in a remote part of Siberia at Pleistocene Park, established in 1989. Wild horses, oxen and reindeer are living there for the first time since the last ice age.

    Ice-age landscape

    Russian scientist Sergey Zimov runs the nearby Northeast Science Station and is one of the park's founders. "A few years ago there were no animals here," he said. "Today they are here and there will be more and more each year."  

    The experiment aims to re-create an ecosystem that disappeared 10,000 years ago. Zimov said the animals would turn the tundra into a grassland.  "Horse, musk ox, reindeer will break the bushes. They will eat them. They will fertilize the soil. The grass will begin to grow. Then most of the trees will dry up, and there will be meadowlands of steppe vegetation."

    But that's a long way off. Currently, the park supports fewer than 200 animals.

    University of Copenhagen ecologist David Nogues said such projects might have dangerous consequences.  "We cannot predict the consequences of this new conservation approach," he said.

    One of the main concerns is that some of the animals in these environments have adapted to their new conditions.  Throwing long-gone animals back into the mix could further disrupt an already stressed ecosystem.

    Writing in Cell Biology, Nogues urges using extreme caution in rewilding to save wild places, "to understand in which way the ecosystem works, how it might react when you introduce a new species, what are the economic costs of rewilding compared to other more classic conservation approaches."

    Wolf pack beds down in Yellowstone National Park, where numbers have multiplied five-fold to over 500 since their re-introduction in the mid-1990s. (Credit: NPS)
    Wolf pack beds down in Yellowstone National Park, where numbers have multiplied five-fold to over 500 since their re-introduction in the mid-1990s. (Credit: NPS)

    Wolf recovery

    The recovery of wolves in America's Yellowstone National Park is often hailed as a rewilding success story.  

    In the mid-1990s, 91 Canadian wolves were released in the park, seven decades after they had been systematically exterminated. The population has multiplied fivefold.  Project manager Doug Smith said the wolves are triggering an unexpected ecological chain reaction.  

    "Weary of wolves, elk no longer linger here," he said. "That allows the willows to grow and sets other changes in motion. Songbirds, moose, muskrat, mink — all these animals benefit when the willows come back."

    Wolves chase an elk in Yellowstone National Park. (Credit: NPS)
    Wolves chase an elk in Yellowstone National Park. (Credit: NPS)

    While wolves are closely monitored in Yellowstone, their expansion outside the park has ranchers up in arms. They say cattle losses have increased with the wolf population.  

    Rancher Richard Kinkie said that because wolves are federally protected, he has few options, "Certainly I would like to see the controls loosened up on us, so we can deal with wolves," he said.

    Fight threats first

    Nogues said politicians and the public must consider the best science before implementing any rewilding program.

    He argues that protecting biodiversity and reducing deforestation, climate change and invasive species are better initial steps to avoid the potential impact of mass extinctions.

    You May Like

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Richard from: KY
    March 11, 2016 5:11 AM
    Shouldn't fool with mother nature.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 10, 2016 11:11 AM
    DNA degrades over time. Right now there's an effort to bring back the wooly mammoth from specimens only a few tens of thousand of years old discovered preserved in the snows of Siberia. Modern elephants will be used as surrogate mothers.

    Were I involved in this kind of work, my life's ambition would be to bring back a T-Rex. Bits and pieces of DNA that survived could eventually be reassembled like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Then Hollywood could make a real Godzilla movie without fake props. But I'm not in that field so the work will have to be done by someone else with a strange sense of humor.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora