by David S. Jachowski, co-editor of Reintroduction of Fish and Wildlife Populations

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520284616To an ecologist, a summer family trip to Yellowstone National Park isn’t just geysers, campfires and pretty snapshots. We drive around idyllic Yellowstone Lake and think of invasive lake trout just under the surface driving down native trout populations. We see wolves and instantly start to mull over their hypothesized role as drivers of trophic cascades.

Indeed present day ecology is rife with jargon as humans attempt to conserve and restore ecosystems. Terms like trophic cascades, de-extinction, rewilding, novel ecosystems, assisted migration, and assisted colonization are part of the new vanguard of ecological debate due in large part to our increasingly well-developed ability to restore animals back to the landscapes from which they have been extirpated.

Reintroduction itself is a deceptively simple concept made complex because over a century of quasi-experiments have shown us that success means not only dealing with the original threat, but assessing the broader landscape (social, political and environmental) that a targeted species must deal with. A landscape that ecology tells is in a constant state of flux, and likely increasingly different as we dive deeper and deeper into the Anthropocene.

In response to this challenge, we have moved far beyond dropping beavers from airplanes to developing an entire interdisciplinary science called reintroduction biology. Gone are the days where ecologists can claim ignorance or detachment from the debates and practices surrounding novel ecosystems, de-extinction, and otherwise complex restoration landscapes. The science now exists, and it is the responsibility of this generation to access and utilize this knowledge to both enhance and chart the course for these emerging frontiers around the globe.

David S. Jachowski is Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University and author of Wild Again: The Struggle to Save the Black-Footed Ferret (UC Press). His scientific work focuses on using a combination of field monitoring, laboratory techniques, and statistical methods to assist in the conservation and restoration of wildlife populations.