The Loom

A good article on the importances of big animals helps put the new dodo fossil discoveries in some ecological context. If you can’t bring dodos back, at least bring in the giant tortoises!


  1. #1 Markk
    July 11, 2006

    The article was interesting, but what a disingenuous name they use – “rewilding” hah – it is actually human interference so I would call it “artificial managed ecological farming” or maybe Disneyfied eco-recreation. Wonder if it would be as popular then? Re-wilding to me means that humans take NO effort whatsoever in an area, and I don’t think that is possible in many places in the world anymore.

  2. #2 JLem
    July 11, 2006

    I read about something similar – maybe a precursor? – in the (now defunct) journal Wild Earth several years back. The article discussed the idea of rewilding North America with elephants and other proxies for extinct fauna. I remember thinking how silly it was and was even prompted to write a letter to the editor to let them know about my discomfort with this idea. Whereas I do like the idea of repopulating areas with extirpated species – like the gray wolves in Yellowstone and other areas – I have a problem using proxies for extinct species. It seems to me that this is really just a case of a large-scale introduction of non-native species into an ecosystem. Don’t we know enough by now to understand that non-native species tend to destroy ecosystems? I think projects that use proxies are doomed to fail or, worse, cause more damage. The idea of bringing back the mammoths is pretty cool, but leave modern elephants on the plains of Africa please.

    BTW I think “rewilding” was coined by Dave Foreman (of Earth First! fame) who founded the Wildlands Project (, the parent organization for the above-mentioned extinct Wild Earth publication.

  3. #3 snaxalotl
    July 12, 2006

    sounds pretty cool, but NOTHING is going to counter the argument of “I don’t want a lion to eat my little jimmy”

    the new zealand example is interesting – would that environment select for progressively larger ostriches until they were the size of moas?

  4. #4 CCP
    July 12, 2006

    elephants? lions? yeah…I don’t know. More bison and antelopes, sure, and I guess horses and maybe camels would be OK.
    But by all means, giant tortoises!!!! Bolsons, at the very least. And more box turtles!

  5. #5 Mark VK
    July 12, 2006

    I also saw the similar article in the Wild Earth magazine and thought (and still think) that the idea is flawed. Unintended consequences seem to appear every time we try to introduce exotic species. Even if we still had mammoths to reintroduce, there is reason to believe that you “can’t go home again” and magically revive the prior ecosystem. Ecosystems are dynamic and path dependent, throwing a few large (surrogate) mammal species back into the system after it has been disrupted will address only a few of the cascading impacts that have shaped the current system. The authors argue that these are cornerstone species, but how can one be sure which aspects of an ecosystem are most important? The whole premise seems to spring from a deep-seated misanthropic reaction.

  6. #6 David B. Benson
    July 12, 2006

    I opine that rewilding is a good idea for North America. For example, before about 11,000 years ago there were wild horses. And now again, in a few parts of the West, there are again wild horses. Seem to be doing jus’ fine.

    Also, before about 11,000 years ago, there were some kind of camels in North America. After a brief experiment conducted in the late 19th century by the U.S. Army, it now appears that the released camels did fine until hunted to extinction. I’m all for re-introducing camels in the American Southwest, only protected from hunters. Paul Martin has written about why this should be to the advantage of the currently distressed environment there.

  7. #7 colluvial
    July 12, 2006

    The first time I heard of this idea, I immediately started thinking of all the problems there have been with invasive species. But then, not being able to come up any problem invasives that could be called megafauna (OK, well maybe of the porcine variety – but this might simply be a matter of too few mountain lions), the idea quickly grew on me. The thought of being able to restore some of the lost diversity, especially of larger species, is exciting. It almost seems like “terraforming” the earth.

  8. #8 catherine
    July 21, 2006

    This may seem a naive question, but I thought of it while reading part of the article you recommend. Why do we humans, a large mammal, behave like an invasive species wherever we live? Is there anyplace on the earth in which we put into the ecosystem the same kinds of “goods” that other species do?

  9. #9 JLem
    July 24, 2006

    that’s a good question. i’m no expert in this, but I imagine that one of the reasons why humans “behave like an invasive species” stems from our ability to adapt (non-evolutionary usage) to new surroundings and conditions. We have enough built-in “plasticity” to survive everywhere on Earth (extreme frozen areas aside). I guess this ability itself is partly a result of our social structures and reasoning ability. While we can adapt so readily to new environments other critters don’t have much of a chance.

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