Research, led by the University of Kent and the University of Sussex, indicates that, for wolves to be effective at directly reducing red deer numbers and allowing nature to recover in the Scottish Highlands, they may need to be reintroduced to very large fenced reserve.
Without natural predators, increasing numbers of red deer are having a devastating ecological impact on parts of Scotland. Their population densities are currently as high as 40 deer per square kilometre, enough to prevent tree-regeneration and cause more than a third of all native woodland to suffer damage.
The research team’s analyses, which also involved scientists from Aarhus University and the University of Oxford, show that a barrier capable of retaining 75% of dispersing wolves within the reserve would be optimum in allowing for rapid wolf population growth that could lead to reduced deer numbers without the risk of having so many wolves that the red deer population would be threatened.
The paper states that a reintroduction of grey wolves, also known as timber wolves, to Scotland is likely to be of relatively small benefit to the conservation of the species, which are classified as of least concern in terms of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, it could have important ecosystem level effects by instigating a significant trickle down impact on species below them in the food chain. It could also have a major effect of wildlife-based tourism, and associated job creation.
Dr Joseph Bull says, “Wolves are glorious animals, and were originally natives of these shores. The idea of them returning will be thrilling for many people. However, the contribution that would make to global wolf conservation would be small — the larger ecological benefit of bringing them back would be the effect on other native species.”
He thinks the next step is to take the rewilding proposals out of computer simulations and into the wild. “While our model offers insights into what is likely to happen, the crucial next step would be to test these ideas in practice — by creating a reserve, reintroducing wolves and closely monitoring the system. More generally, and perhaps counterintuitively, barriers in some form might have a more important role to play in establishing modern wild areas than previously thought.”
The original article can be found here.