Opportunities for trophic rewilding in the Mediterranean basin

The Mediterranean Basin is a unique socio-ecological system, characterized by a mosaic of cultural landscapes, a remarkable variety of species and habitats, and high endemism in both fauna and plants. Rural depopulation and changes in land-use patterns appear as a major contemporary threat to Mediterranean species. Land management efforts have focused on supporting traditional agricultural landscapes, where extensive grazing of domestic livestock is used to maintain heterogenous habitats and mimic or substitute crucial ecosystem functions once provided by wild herbivores. However, this strategy is being reconsidered due to the decline in pastoral practices and the dependence of such system on agricultural subsidies. A shift in focus towards the reintroduction of wild, large-bodied mammals – a strategy called trophic rewilding – could offer a viable solution to protect and restore biodiversity in the long term, while simultaneously achieving a range of co-benefits.

This project will integrate different lines of evidence, from deep-time ecological aspects to information on the distribution of anthropogenic activities and protected areas, to explore the potential for trophic rewilding as a restoration strategy in the Mediterranean basin. The student will collate fossil and historical records from the literature to reconstruct long-term distribution patterns of megafauna species. This information will be linked to habitat types and land-use patterns in contemporary landscapes to identify areas that are good candidates for large mammal restoration in the Mediterranean basin. This will form the evidence-base to support a discussion around the challenges and opportunities of implementing trophic rewilding across the Mediterranean basin.

This project is interdisciplinary, at the interface between biogeography, historical ecology, and conservation. This is a desk-based project, without field work. The student will be integrated within a dynamic and supportive research team within the Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World (BIOCHANGE).

Contact: co-supervisors: Jens-Christian Svenning and Sophie Monsarrat

The project proposal has been submitted 15.02.2021.