“Understanding the processes, mediator and times-scales involved during post-industrial ecological recovery will increasingly be on the agenda. While there is currently an expansion of industrialisation across the world, there will be the need to restore these ecosystems in the future and rewilding in this context can address both climate change and biodiversity concerns. However, there are only very few locations where post-industrial recovery can be studied, where the effect of industrialisation has already retreated, and ecosystems are rewilding. As a result, rewilding of post-industrial sites is understudied. This presentation introduces environmental monitoring in the Tees estuary, UK, a site of early, heavy industrialisation where habitats were transformed, and biota extirpated from the 1840s. From the 1980s, this estuary saw key indicators of ecosystems health such as seals and migratory fish returning. While high resolution census data is being collected for charismatic organisms (seal, salmon), lesser-known biota, including primary producers are not monitored, leading to a poor understanding of the existing food chain. Similarly, water quality is thoroughly monitored but for emerging pollution such as plastics and plastic additives. In the Tees estuary, a major factor for ecological recovery was the collaboration of stakeholders from industry, governmental agencies, and NGOs. Unfortunately, there is no rigorous and detailed account of how this dialogue mediated ecological recovery. In short, we introduce the monitoring of an internationally-significant case study, providing knowledge of best practice when rewilding coastal ecosystem in post-industrial conditions.”
The link between Wildlife Biology and the Monitoring Rewilding IntEcol2022 session creates an opportunity to draw synergies when promoting the work presented, and initiates collaborative work between Wildlife Biology, the session organisers, and the speakers.
“One defining characteristic of rewilding is the establishment of natural processes to create self-sustaining ecosystems where conservation management is minimised. Some critical natural processes only occur when driven by ecosystem engineers, such as beavers creating wetlands, tapir dispersing tree seeds or giant tortoise grazing vegetation. Because many landscapes have experienced widespread ecosystem-engineer extinction, rewilding is typically accelerated when re-introducing large herbivores and carnivores. Monitoring change during rewilding is an opportunity to quantify societal benefits such as fighting climate change and biodiversity loss, but also requires overcoming barriers. For example, rewilding can occur in a variety of situations, at a range of temporal and spatial scales, and sometimes without a specific target. As a result, a wide range of benefits to society can be considered and many will not be relevant in all situations. Therefore, we pose the question: what and how to monitor during rewilding?
Rewilding progress can be measured within a given area using quantified proxies for decreasing human inputs and for increasing environmental integrity. A standardised and detailed framework will empower practitioners and build the evidence-base for future initiatives. A key abiotic change attracting focus is carbon sequestration along with the wider contribution to climate change mitigation. However, there remain knowledge gaps about the magnitude and directionality of change during rewilding. Promisingly, when accounting for the complex interaction between megafauna and permafrost, there may be a financial case via carbon markets to rewild vast areas of the arctic. Moreover, the need to assess the benefits following re-introduction of beavers as ecosystem engineers in Britain has led to the collection of abundant evidence based on multiple abiotic parameters such as hydrology, and aquatic biodiversity. Biodiversity and food web changes controlling top-down and bottom-up ecosystem processes can be difficult to document without resource-intensive biological surveys covering a wide range of organisms. eDNA and metabarcoding of megafaunal faecal samples are examples of existing tools useful in this context to synthesise biotic changes in time. In addition to abiotic and biotic aspects, practitioner’s perspectives can provide important insights and assess the human dimensions beyond ecological metrics.
A challenging undertaking such as monitoring change during rewilding ultimately also forces the ecological community to break new ground and push our field’s frontiers. This will be illustrated with a model of social-ecological monitoring designed for the diverse world of rewilding.”