What is reintroduction?

In efforts to save certain species or alter ecosystems, animals and plants can be reintroduced
09 August 2022

Interview with 

Chris Sandom, University of Sussex


This week we are taking a look at reintroductions. No, not when you awkwardly have to tell someone who you are again after meeting them once before: wildlife reintroductions. In order to help us better understand these events, we are joined by Chris Sandom, a lecturer in Evolution, Behaviour and the Environment at the University of Sussex...

Chris Sandom - Yeah, a reintroduction is the deliberate movement of organisms, so animals, plants, fungi, from one place to another to restore them in a place they used to occur in. So quite a simple definition, it can get more complicated around what it means by 'used to occur' and 'how recently do they need to be there?' and potentially got some confusion in the future about climate change and moving territories. Some interesting complications to an otherwise simple idea.

Chris Smith - And what's the main motivation behind doing this?

Chris Sandom - So there's two really, I think. Traditionally, it's been really focused around protecting a threatened species. So if you've got a species that's fewer in number or restricted to a small area in a place that faces lots of threats, you might want to move a few of those individuals to another place to get another population established to help the outlook for that species, help the conservation of that species. The other one that's getting increasingly more popular is restoring a species that plays an important role in the ecosystem and is normally associated with the idea of rewilding. For example, reintroducing the beaver into the UK. The Eurasian beaver is not a species under particular threat at the moment, it's classified as least concern, but it has these really tremendous impacts on the ecosystem, through its dam building behavior. It can create wetlands, which is really important for lots of other species. So you kind of get those two as two main ideas.

Chris Smith - And when contemplating doing this, what sort of checks and balances are there? Because I can think immediately of some terrible examples, when people have introduced something to an environment it shouldn't be in, and they've discovered to their cost subsequently. I mean, things like the cane toad going into parts of Australia and now wreaking havoc with the natural flora and fauna. So what sorts of things are considered when considering doing this?

Chris Sandom - Yeah, this, this is a really important question and there's quite a lot, to be honest. The guidelines for reintroductions are 72 pages long. There's an important distinction, I think, to make between an introduction and a reintroduction. So the reintroduction into that place where we know it has occurred before. Whereas the example you just gave was the introduction of a species that had no ecological history there and the ecosystem struggled to adapt to it, but that doesn't mean reintroductions are automatically safe. So there's a few things we want to consider here. I think firstly, you want to think about the animals that were going to be moved. There's a big ethical issue here. Are we moving animals that are coming from a population that can withstand their loss? Are these organisms given a fair chance of being moved? You then want to think about the ecosystem they're being released into? What are going to be the consequences? Are they going to be largely positive and going to build that resilient and diverse ecologically rich ecosystem? Are they going to fit in there well? And you know, last but by no means least, how are people going to be affected? The social economic, cultural implications of a species reintroduction. And each of those has a lot to unpack. And I think getting a risk assessment right is really fundamental for all of those things. So it's quite a lot to consider.


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