Can introduced species bring back the past?
Giant wombats and hoofed kangaroos are extinct but a new study finds that introducing their surrogates might re-wild many parts of the world.
The giant wombat may no longer roam the wilds of Australia, but wild donkeys certainly do, and new research reveals that the two are ecologically similar. Human hunting caused the extinction of many megafauna (large herbivorous mammals) over the last 100,000 years, but recently humans have introduced numerous herbivore species, rewilding many parts of the world, particularly Australia.
In most places, these introduced megafauna are viewed as invasive species.
Now a new study, comparing the traits of introduced herbivores to those of the past, reveals that introductions have restored many important ecological traits that have been lost for thousands of years.
Lead author and PhD student at the UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation (CfCC), Erick Lundgren says the possibility that introduced herbivores might restore lost ecological functions “had been suggested but not rigorously evaluated”.
The pre-extinction world
Megafauna thrived 30 – 45 million years Massive wombat-relatives called diprotodons, turtle-like glyptodons, hoofed kangaroos reminiscent of ‘open-plains’ horses, and two-story tall sloths. emerged in the fossil record not long after the demise of the dinosaurs but most were driven extinct by 10,000 years ago, most likely by the hunting pressure of our human ancestors in the Late Pleistocene.
The researchers found that by introducing species across the world, humans restored lost ecological traits to many ecosystems; making the world more similar to the pre-extinction Late Pleistocene and counteracting a legacy of extinctions.
We need a complete rethink of non-native species, to end eradication programs, and to start celebrating and protecting these incredible wildlife.
Dr Arian Wallach
UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation
The authors compared key ecological traits of herbivore species since before the Late Pleistocene extinctions, such as body size, diet, and habitat.
Continue reading at UTS Newsroom: Can introduced species bring back the past?