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

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora