What is it about?
Britain has lost all of its mammalian top predators, and with them many potential ecological benefits. These are mainly related to the reduction of overgrazing or over-browsing by prey animals such as deer. It has previously been suggested that the reintroduction of the native grey wolf could benefit Scotland, where red deer in particular have reached unsustainable densities. However, suitable habitat must be present in order for any reintroduction to be successful. Through a review of the academic literature on wolves, we were able to identify four habitat variables that were important to them, and formulate "rules" about what wolves required in their environment. Using these rules, we could then map the Scottish mainland according to its suitability for wolves. Our results suggest that there may be between 10,000km² and 19,000km² in the Highlands, Grampians and Cairngorms that is largely suitable for wolves. This area would be sufficient to support between 50 and 94 packs.
Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash
Why is it important?
The UK government is committed to nature recovery and has set out policies that include the reintroduction of lost native species. Simultaneously the potential benefits of apex predators are increasingly being recognised. Previous research sets out the importance of habitat suitability for any reintroduction, and the need for a pre-existing body of work should reintroduction ever be considered. This suggests that research should be carried out even if reintroduction is not immediately likely. Though wolf reintroduction is strongly opposed by some sectors of society, it also has the potential to inspire and excite people about conservation. Yet, to our knowledge this is the only study that models the suitability of all of mainland Scotland for wolves. As an island, Britain is increasingly becoming an outlier in having no recolonising wolf population. Their presence in our landscape is a decision we must make actively, in full consideration of the wolf’s requirements and impacts. This is what this research contributes to.
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This page is a summary of: Rule-based habitat suitability modelling for the reintroduction of the grey wolf (Canis lupus) in Scotland, PLoS ONE, October 2022, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0265293.
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