Rewilding is gaining traction as an approach to conservation. However, many different perspectives about which species and ecological processes to focus rewilding efforts on and how deeply to intervene in systems has created some confusion and contention within the field. Furthermore, the most ambitious and extreme rewilding proposals (for example, recreating communities that went extinct millennia ago) have often attracted more attention, while the more pragmatic and immediate solutions in the field are overlooked.
This article attempts to clarify the concept. The authors emphasize that rewilding is a process-oriented approach to biodiversity conservation “focused on preserving and restoring the structural and functional complexity of degraded ecosystems” [Fernandez 2017: 276].
Rewilding pursues the goal of restoring wild species interactions and their regulation of key ecosystem processes including nutrient and energy flows, vegetation succession and disturbances, drawing specific attention to the key roles of large-bodied species that are especially sensitive to the human appropriation of landscapes [Fernandez 2017: 277].
The authors suggest further research is needed. They note that while the negative effects on ecosystems of the loss of biodiversity and keystone species is well documented, ecosystem responses to species reintroduction and other rewilding efforts are not as well studied. To guide future research, the authors
propose an unequivocally process-oriented formulation of the “rewilding hypothesis” as a general guidance: that the large-scale restoration of apex consumers and large herbivores promotes self-regulation in community assemblages, and increases the complexity of ecological processes in ecosystems [Fernandez 2016: 277].
Also needed is policy and management practice support, particularly in terms of protecting the areas and species in question. Proactive policies could ensure that gains made toward ecological restoration are not undermined by damaging human activity.
Policies and practices should be developed in order to enforce the idea that rewilding is about reducing the human control on ecosystem processes. It must begin to include varied objectives to alleviate pressures on wildlife populations such as a full legal protection of large predators based on their unique ecological roles and not just depending on their conservation status; the eradication of predator control programs; or the elimination of game management practices such as wildlife fencing, introduction of alien game populations, supplementary feeding and others that profoundly alter the natural regulation and the genetic structure of large herbivore populations [Fernandez 2016: 278].
Fernandez, Nestor, Laetitia M. Navarro & Henrique M. Pereira, 2017, Rewilding: a call for boosting ecological complexity in conservation, Conservation Letters 10(3), https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12374.