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Viability and Risk Assessment in Species Restoration: Planning Reintroductions for the Wild Boar, a Potential Disease Reservoir

Néstor Fernández, UFZ Centre for Environmental Research and the Doñana Biological Station, CSIC
Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, UFZ Centre for Environmental Research
Hans-Hermann Thulke, UFZ Centre for Environmental Research

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Abstract

The reintroduction of large mammals is often considered a priority conservation action in highly industrialized countries in which many of these species have been depleted. However, species reintroduction after decades of absence may involve important risks for human activities and ecological communities, such as favoring the spread of diseases. An example of a potentially troublesome reintroduction is the wild boar, which may act as a reservoir of diseases, e.g., classical swine fever, and cause high economic losses, and has become a species of concern in several European countries for both ecological and recreational reasons. Failure to prevent the disease consequences of species restoration can negate its conservation benefits. Here we evaluated the probability of both successfully reintroducing wild boar into Denmark and limiting their contact with domestic pig farms to which they might spread disease. For this purpose, we developed a spatially explicit, individual-based population model that incorporates information on boar habitat and demography information from Central European populations. We then compared model predictions with the spatial distribution of farms to achieve a spatial assessment of the contact risk. The most restrictive model scenario predicted that nearly 6% of Denmark provides habitat conditions that would allow wild boar to reproduce. The best habitats for reintroduction were aggregated in seven different areas throughout the country in which the extinction probability was < 5%. However, the expected population expansion was very limited in most of these areas. Both the number of suitable areas and the potential for population expansion greatly increased when we relaxed our habitat assumptions about boar forest requirements; this provided a more conservative scenario for a cautious risk analysis. We additionally found that part of the risk of contact with piggeries was associated with the magnitude of the expansion, although the nonrandom spatial pattern of farm distribution also had a strong influence. The partitioning of risks into those related to population expansion and those related to farm distribution allowed us to identify trade-offs between restoring boar populations and minimizing risks in different potential areas and under different risk scenarios; as a result, we rejected some of the particularly high-risk areas for potential reintroduction of the species. Our approach illustrates how the joint quantification of anticipated reintroduction success and associated risks can guide efforts aimed at reconciling species recovery and the affected health and economic interests.

Key words

conservation; introduced species; risk assessment; rule-based habitat models; spatially explicit population models; species reintroduction; Sus scrofa; wildlife diseases
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087