Rewilding: What if we had the giants back?

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Dr. Lynda

Dinosaurs were not the only giants to roam our planet. After they died out, a class of animals called “megafauna” gradually evolved on every continent. Armadillos as big as automobiles, ground sloths the size of elephants, and beavers eight feet long roamed North America.

Image: Megafauna from North America

“Rewilding” is a new term we may start hearing more often, as we try to find solutions to balance our impact on the natural world.

We know how much we’ve shaped our surroundings on this planet, but we’ve forgotten that the once abundant large animals (megafauna) had a huge impact too!

This is an amazing story, but first a question:

Have you ever considered what the landscape where you live might have looked like thousands of years ago?

Turns out, every animal at the top of the food chain has an enormous and positive effect on its surroundings, and when it disappears from the environment, bad things happen. The collage below shows just a fraction of the species that are in population booms in North America because of an imbalance in the food chain.

Image: examples of nature out of balance

Fortunately, scientific sleuths are piecing together the puzzle of relationships that once sustained fruitful ecosystems when megafauna reined supreme.  The effect of megafauna on their surroundings has left us important clues about the best way forward from here.

The choices we make in the coming decades may change the future of life on our planet. Perhaps this is the time to be looking at the past for answers.

Take a look at some of the possibilities:

Via: TED-Ed 1

Do you live somewhere where the natural world is clearly out of balance? Too many deer eating gardens in your neighborhood? Too many feral cats eating the songbirds? How about pests that are killing whole species of tree, or invasive plants that are taking over waterways?

These are the kinds of imbalances that “rewilding” aims to address.

Rewilding: a concrete example of Potential…

Here in Vermont, in the New England region of the U.S., we have a particularly intractable health problem with something called “Lyme’s Disease”. This is a dreadful illness that follows a bite from an increasingly common pest called a “deer tick”, which is the size of a poppy seed.

People used to think the prevalence of Lyme’s Disease followed increases in the deer population, but now we know that the disease is more common when fox populations fall.

Image: Red Fox chasing a mouse in the snow: Rewilding.

It turns out that foxes keep the tick population down by eating the small creatures on whom the tick starts its life cycle: mice, voles, and other tiny rodents. The deer are only the transportation vehicle for the adult ticks at the endpoint of their life-cycle.

Solid science has found that the most productive way to reduce the deer tick population is to attack its life-cycle at the earliest point: bring back a healthy fox population!

If you’d like to know more about that relationship, click here to see a fabulous article by the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Know More Examples of Rewilding?

We look forward to hearing more about the ideas behind rewilding.  At its best, innovation is often somewhat counter-intuitive, like this backwards-looking concept.

To us, it is yet another demonstration that this is still an amazing world (our motto here at everwideningcircles.com). If you know more about this concept, contact us!

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Now before you go, you MUST check out an article we did late last summer that very entertainingly shows a jaw-dropping and inspiring way rewilding is already working. In our article called How Wolves Radically Change Rivers, a great rewilding project in Yellowstone National Park demonstrates the possibility this new concept brings to our future. Take a look!

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Image: Collage of Positive things in the world

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~ Dr. Lynda

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