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Species reintroduction

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Species reintroduction is the deliberate release of a species into the wild, from captivity or other areas where the organism survives.[1] The goal of species reintroduction is to establish a healthy, genetically diverse, self-sustaining population to an area where it has been extirpated, or to augment an existing population.[2] A species that needs reintroduction is usually one whose existence has become threatened or endangered in the wild. However, reintroduction of a species can also be for pest control. For example, wolves being reintroduced to a wild area because of an overpopulation of elk or deer. Because reintroduction may involve returning native species to localities where they had been extirpated, some prefer the term "reestablishment".[1]

Humans have been reintroducing species for food and pest control for thousands of years. However, the practice of reintroducing for conservation is much younger, starting in the 20th century.[3]


Methods for reintroductionEdit

There are a variety of approaches to species reintroduction. The optimal strategy will depend on the biology of the organism.[4] The first matter to address in choosing a method is sourcing individuals in situ, wild populations, or ex situ, such as a zoo or botanic garden.

In situ sourcingEdit

In situ sourcing for restorations involves removing individuals from an existing wild population and moving them to the new site where they were formerly extirpated. Ideally, populations should be sourced from in situ when possible as there are numerous risks with reintroducing organisms in the wild from captive population.[5] In order to ensure that the reintroduced populations have the best chance of surviving, the population the individuals are collected from should closely resemble the extirpated population genetically and ecologically. Generally, sourcing from nearby populations with similar habitat to the reintroduction site will maximize the chance that reintroduced individuals will be similar to the original population.[6]

One consideration for in situ sourcing is at which life stage the organisms should be collected, transported, and reintroduced. For instance, with plants, it is often ideal to transport them as seeds as they have the best chance of surviving translocation at this stage. Some plants are difficult to establish as seed however and may need to be translocated as juveniles or adults.[4]

Ex situ sourcingEdit

In situations where in situ collection of individuals is not feasible, for instance too few individuals exist in the wild, ex situ collections may be used. There are a number of types of ex situ collections. Germplasm may be stored in the form of seed banks, sperm and egg banks, cryopreservation, and tissue culture. These method allows the storage of many individuals and have high potential for reintroduction.[5] Since this method allows for storage of a high number of individuals, it maximizes genetic diversity. Once collected, the material can last for relatively long periods in storage.However some species lose viability when stored as seed.[7] However tissue culture and cryopreservation techniques have only been perfected for a few species.[8] Organisms may also be kept in living collections. Living collections are more costly than storing germplasm and hence can support only a fraction of the individuals that ex situ sourcing can.[5] When sourcing for living collections, the risks increase. There are fewer individuals so loss of genetic diversity becomes a concern.[9] The individuals may also become adapted to captivity so efforts should be made to replicate wild conditions and time spent in captivity should be minimized whenever possible.[10]

Successes and failuresEdit

Reintroduction biology is a relatively young discipline and continues to be a work in progress. There is still no general and broadly accepted definition of reintroduction success, it has been proposed that the criteria widely used to assess the conservation status of endangered taxa, such as the IUCN Red List criteria, should be used to assess reintroduction success.[11] Successful reintroduction programs should yield viable and self-sustainable populations in the long-term. The IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group & Environment Agency, in their 2011 Global Re-introduction Perspectives, compiled reintroduction case studies from around the world.[12] 184 case studies were reported on a range of species which included invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. Assessments from all of the studies included goals, success indicators, project summary, major difficulties faced, major lessons learned, and success of project with reasons for success or failure. A similar assessment focused solely on plants found high rates of success for rare species reintroductions.[13] An analysis of data from the Center for Plant Conservation International Reintroduction Registry found that, for the 49 cases where data were available, 92% of the reintroduced plant populations survived two years. The Siberian tiger population has rebounded from 40 individuals in the 1940s to around 500 in 2007. The Siberian tiger population is now the largest un-fragmented tiger population in the world.[14] Yet, a high proportion of translocations and reintroductions have not been successful in establishing viable populations[15] For instance, in China reintroduction of captive Giant Pandas have had mixed effects. The initial pandas released from captivity all died quickly after reintroduction.[16] Even now that they have improved their ability to reintroduce pandas, concern remains over how well they captive bred pandas will fare with their wild relatives.[17]

Many factors can attribute to the success or failure of a reintroduction. Predators, food, pathogens, competitors, and weather can all affect a reintroduced population's ability to grow, survive, and reproduce. Animals raised in captivity may experience stress during captivity or translocation, which can weaken their immune systems.[18] The IUCN reintroduction guidelines emphasize the need for an assessment of the availability of suitable habitat as a key component of reintroduction planning.[19] Poor assessment of the release site can increase the chances that the species will reject the site and perhaps move to a less suitable environment. This can decrease the species fitness and thus decrease chances for survival.[18] They state that restoration of the original habitat and amelioration of causes of extinction must be explored and considered as essential conditions for these projects. Unfortunately, the monitoring period that should follow reintroductions often remains neglected.[20]

Genetic considerationsEdit

When a species has been extirpated from a site where it previously existed, individuals for the reintroduced population must be sourced from elsewhere. When sourcing for reintroductions, it is important to consider local adaptation, adaptation to captivity (for ex situ conservation), the possibility of inbreeding depression and outbreeding depression, and the genetic diversity of the source population.[2]

If plants or animals are moved from one part of their range to another, they may not be sufficiently adapted to local environmental conditions, and may suffer from reduced fitness as a result. This issue is further complicated by projected climatic shifts induced by climate change, and has led to the development of new seed sourcing protocols for plants that attempt to predict future changes in climatic conditions, and select plants best adapted to those conditions.[21] Historically, sourcing plant material for reintroductions has followed the rule "local is best," as the best way to preserve local adaptations, with individuals for reintroductions selected from the most geographically proximate population.[22] To that end, conservation agencies have developed seed transfer zones that serve as guidelines for how far plant material can be transported before it will perform poorly.[23] Seed transfer zones take into account proximity, ecological conditions, and climatic conditions in order to predict how plant performance will vary from one zone to the next. A study of the reintroduction of Castilleja levisecta found that the source populations most physically near the reintroduction site performed the poorest in a field experiment, while those from the source population whose ecological conditions most closely matched the reintroduction site performed best, demonstrating the importance of matching the evolved adaptations of a population to the conditions at the reintroduction site.[24]

Some reintroduction programs use plants or animals from captive populations to form a reintroduced population.[2] When reintroducing individuals from a captive population to the wild, there is a risk that they have adapted to captivity. Animals can adapt to captivity by showing reduced stress tolerance, increased tameness, and loss of local adaptations.[25] Plants also can show adaptations to captivity through changes in drought tolerance, nutrient requirements, and seed dormancy requirements.[26] Such adaptations can lead to reduced fitness following reintroduction, and can be minimized during captivity by maximizing the number of new individuals added to captive populations, maximizing generation length, and minimizing selection pressure, number of generations, heritability, and the size of the captive population.[2] For plants, minimizing adaptation to captivity is usually achieved by sourcing plant material from a seed bank, where individuals are preserved as wild-collected seeds, and have not had the chance to adapt to conditions in captivity.

If the species slated for reintroduction is rare in the wild, it is likely to have unusually low population numbers, and care should be taken to avoid inbreeding and inbreeding depression.[2] Inbreeding can change the frequency of allele distribution in a population, and potentially result in a change to crucial genetic diversity.[2] Additionally, outbreeding depression can occur if a reintroduced population can hybridize with existing populations in the wild, which can result in offspring with reduced fitness, and less adaptation to local conditions. To minimize both, practitioners should source for individuals in a way that captures as much genetic diversity as possible, and attempt to match source site conditions to local site conditions as much as possible.[2]

Capturing as much genetic diversity as possible, measured as heterozygosity, is a good rule of thumb to follow in species reintroductions.[2] Some protocols suggest that sourcing approximately 30 individuals from a population will capture 95% of the genetic diversity.[2] Maintaining that genetic diversity throughout the reintroduction process is crucial to avoiding the loss of essential local adaptations and maximizing fitness of the reintroduced population.

Improving research techniquesEdit

A cooperative approach to reintroduction by ecologists and biologists could improve research techniques. For both preparation and monitoring of reintroductions, increasing contacts between academic population biologists and wildlife managers is encouraged within the Survival Species Commission and the IUCN. The IUCN states that a re-introduction requires a multidisciplinary approach involving a team of persons drawn from a variety of backgrounds.[19] A survey by Wolf et al. in 1998 indicated that 64% of reintroduction projects have used subjective opinion to assess habitat quality.[18] This means that most reintroduction evaluation has been based on human anecdotal evidence and not enough has been based on statistical findings. Seddon et al. (2007) suggest that researchers contemplating future reintroductions should specify goals, overall ecological purpose, and inherent technical and biological limitations of a given reintroduction, and planning and evaluation processes should incorporate both experimental and modeling approaches.[3]

Monitoring the health of individuals, as well as the survival, is important; both before and after the reintroduction. Intervention may be necessary if the situation proves unfavorable.[19] Population dynamics models that integrate demographic parameters and behavioral data recorded in the field can lead to simulations and tests of a priori hypotheses. Using previous results to design further decisions and experiments is a central concept of adaptive management. In other words, learning by doing can help in future projects. Population ecologists should therefore collaborate with biologists, ecologists, and wildlife management to improve reintroduction programs.[27]

Adaptation to captivityEdit

It may be very hard to reintroduce species into the wild, even if their natural habitats were restored. Survival techniques, which are normally passed from parents to offspring during parenting, are lost. The genetics of the species is saved, but the natural memetics of the species is not.

Beginning in the 1980s, biologists have learned that many mammals and birds need to learn new behaviors survive in the wild. Thus, reintroduction programmes have to be planned carefully, ensuring that the animals have the necessary survival skills. Biologists must also study the animals after the reintroduction to learn whether the animals are surviving and breeding, what effects the reintroduction has on the ecosystem, and how to improve the process.

Still, a vast number of animals may need to be reintroduced into the wild to be sure that enough of them learn how to survive. For instance, in reintroducing houbara bustards into the wild in the United Arab Emirates, more than 5,000 birds per year are used.[3][28]

Re-introduction Specialist Group (RSG)Edit

The RSG is a network of specialists whose aim is to combat the ongoing and massive loss of biodiversity by using re-introductions as a responsible tool for the management and restoration of biodiversity. It does this by actively developing and promoting sound inter-disciplinary scientific information, policy, and practice to establish viable wild populations in their natural habitats. The role of the RSG is to promote the re-establishment of viable populations in the wild of animals and plants. The need for this role was felt due to the increased demand from re-introduction practitioners, the global conservation community and increase in re-introduction projects worldwide.

Increasing numbers of animal and plant species are becoming rare, or even extinct in the wild. In an attempt to re-establish populations, species can – in some instances – be re-introduced into an area, either through translocation from existing wild populations, or by re-introducing captive-bred animals or artificially propagated plants.



Lion reintroduction sites in India


Middle EastEdit

Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx)

North AmericaEdit

A fisher leaps from its holding container and darts off into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Oceans and OceaniaEdit

South AmericaEdit

United KingdomEdit

Reserva CIBE

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit